For three weeks every spring and into early summer, I get to see first-hand the aggressive raping and plundering of a very small part of the New Zealand coastline by large, well-organised commercial purseseiners, supported by spotter planes.
The nightmare recurs each year, and the schools of English mackerel, kahawai, trevally and jack mackerel, accompanied by other species feeding on or under them, such as kingfish, snapper and john dory, do not stand a chance against the commercial boats’ football-field-sized scoop nets.
I am constantly reminded of what’s going down, because we can view the plundering from the deck of the lodge we run at Mangawhai Heads. I see it up close as I depart and return from our Mokohinau Islands’ fishing adventures each day, too.
These XXOS purse-seiners, which are operating well within the law, will stay in the area, some days venturing as close as two miles from the beach, until it is no longer financially viable for them to be there. This normally means they have caught all the main schools/bodies of fish in this small area.
These large vessels then head to other regions, leaving the locals and holidaymakers with the scraps and a shattered marine ecosystem.
Every year the locals watch in disbelief and anger; we all dream and imagine what the local inshore fishing would be like if it was left alone by the purse-seiners for even one spring.
The saddest part of this unsustainable process is that these large schools of fish are in the Bream Bay area almost ready to spawn. World-leading fisheries management at its finest? Yeah, right!
What are these unsustainable fishing methods worth to the average Kiwi? Is the short-term gain worth the long-term damage we are doing to our inshore fishery? As a very smart commercial fisherman once said to me, while tuna fishing in Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, “You have to look after the resource if you want to make a living from it, and then leave it for the generations to come. It’s not ours; it’s ours to use now and make sure it’s healthy for the next generation.”
He also referred to bottom trawling as being akin to a farmer walking out into a field, and every time the grain just pops out of the ground, cutting it off. It would not be long until the farmer has no crop!
These are comments from a commercial fisherman who manages one of PEI’s largest fisheries co-ops and has seen a fishery collapse, then experienced the pain and heartache associated with its rebuild.
As a travelling fisherman, I have seen the unsustainable fishing methods used first hand. I have also seen fisheries collapse in my short time on this planet, as well as the amazing results of properly managed fisheries and sustainable fishing methods elsewhere. For some it’s too late. Look what happened to Cabo Blanco, Peru, where overfishing helped bring about the demise of a world-leading fishery that has never recovered.
In the Canadian maritime area, consisting of PEI and Nova Scotia, the herring schools and giant bluefin fishery collapsed. It took some serious work, research and strict rules to restore the fishery to where it is today, but the cod fishery has never recovered in that area.
Countries like Panama and Costa Rica know the importance of a healthy fishery and have banned destructive purse-seining in certain areas, knowing the short-term gain of commercial plundering is minor compared to the long-term benefits of a sustainable healthy fishery. Now, with a healthy marine ecosystem, the potential tourism-related activities are endless.
How can a developed country like New Zealand think it is still okay to plunder our fish stocks? It amazes me how politicians are content to sit back and not do anything to protect our fragile fishery for future generations!
The frustrating thing we, as fishermen, are faced with, is how we can get politicians and the ‘rule makers’ to listen to what is really going on and the longterm issues we are going to face. Instead, it seems all politicians are putting the ‘what to do about the state of our fisheries’ in the too-hard basket, appearing content to be bullied and lied to by the corporate commercial-fishing sector.
What can we do? As single human beings attempting to fix the fishery problems when the people we vote for will not listen or stand up and help, the situation feels almost futile. However, we can all educate our families and friends, lead by example, and show the world the potential benefits gained by looking out for our fishery. We can also highlight the bad and unsustainable practices we see – show the world, and tell everyone we do not like it, we do not want it, and it’s not okay.
As a charter operator, fishing guide and recreational fisherman, I have a responsibility to look after the resource for the future. I also have a responsibility to make sure it’s going to be in good shape when I leave it to my offspring. Consequently, we have guidelines within my charter operation, Offshore Adventures, to ensure we are looking after our resource:
• We only use non-offset circle hooks for ALL bait fishing
• Our clients are limited to a maximum of one kingfish each.
• We do not buy bait or berley, instead catching our bait each day. (If you do not agree with some commercial-fishing practices, why support them?)
• No anchoring when fishing. It saves the kelp beds and sea floor, and helps prevent concentrated fishing in one spot, which creates dead areas.
• We do not focus on catching our limit of snapper or filling the bin. Instead, our charters are an ‘experience’ and a place to learn. Each fish kept is looked after and respected to ensure it is in the best possible condition for eating.
• All billfish are released.
If everyone fished the Mokohinau Islands like this, we could have a sustainable playground that future generations can enjoy forever. It would be incredibly worthwhile. After all, the Mokohinau Islands are world renowned for the massive trevally and kahawai schools that surface-feed on the krill there – a sight that still amazes me every day I am out there. I therefore often lie awake at night dreading the day when commercial seiners run out of fish elsewhere and move on to ‘the Mokes’.
I recently completed two four-day charters with groups from overseas. Both groups stayed in Mangawhai for the duration, ate in our restaurants, rented cars and chartered my services over the four days, fishing the stunning Mokohinau Islands. We only kept enough fish to feed them for the time they were staying. On each four-day trip, we killed approximately one kingfish, six snapper and a couple of trevally for sashimi, with the rest released.
Each of those four-day trips would be worth over $12,000–$14,000 to our economy, making each fish taken worth approximately $1200 to $1500 to our domestic and local economies. With a carefully managed sustainable fishery, imagine the tourism opportunities from a healthy fishery! Next, compare this to the $1.16 per kilo return for baitfish being unsustainably caught on our coastlines then exported for pet food, low-grade protein and lobster/crayfish bait.
So what’s New Zealand’s fish worth to you? (HELP!)
What’s your journey?
Tony, Bea and Sami
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