Approximately 13 per cent of New Zealanders fish recreationally, to feed their families and spend time outdoors.
They have this in common with commercial fishers, in a roundabout way as our sector generally provides fish for other people’s families in order to support their own.
There are other commonalities. All fishers face the effects of ocean warming and acidification, and expectations to decarbonise the fleet. The damage caused by land-use intensification is felt by all, such as sedimentation and run-off containing pollution, pathogens, and parasites like Toxoplasma gondii which is associated with dolphin deaths.
We also share a reasonable amount of churn and change. Of the seven Fisheries NZ consultations open from 1 August until now, all relate to closures or restrictions. Four are relevant to both commercial and recreational fishers. The other three solely affect commercial fishers.
Many election-year policies and pledges relate to both types of fishing, as summarised in a recent Update, although to differing degrees.
It might feel like recreational fishing gets off lightly when it comes to media attention. But recent coverage about illegal pāua gathering and extreme overfishing in the Hauraki Gulf illustrates the public interest in, and subsequent reporting about, the behaviour of recreational fishers.
New Zealanders will be relieved to see Fisheries NZ taking fish theft so seriously. We know it’s not an easy job. These days it comes with body cameras to protect fishery officers from abuse and assault.
The public might also be wondering how areas like the Hauraki Gulf, which they’ve been led to believe are in dire straits, can sustain cases like the 348 fish caught from one small boat in one day, including nine times the daily limit for snapper.
Regardless of who catches it, snapper is the main fish species caught in the Gulf and this shared fishery is one of our largest and most valuable. But as the greater Auckland population increases, so does pressure on snapper.
As much as two-thirds of the snapper catch in the Gulf is recreational which is not surprising when you consider that recreational fishers currently have open access to about 95 per cent of the Gulf.
Which leads us to ask: Are there adequate regulations, monitoring and reporting requirements in place for recreational fishing? And are current measures enough to ensure such fishing is sustainable?
Recreational fishers need to know their bag limits, size limits, and where there are closures and restrictions. Their catch allowance is part of Total Allowable Catch under the Quota Management System.
The law is layered on much more thickly for commercial fishers however, when you add observers, onboard cameras, electronic reporting, geospatial position reporting and more to the mix.
The discrepancy in the amount and quality of data available for fisheries management, between the two types of fishing, was a theme in submissions to the draft Fisheries Industry Transformation Plan (ITP).
This concern underpins actions under the ITP’s theme ‘Utilising data to enhance the transparency and efficiency of fishing activity’. Given that we know how data can be used to better manage fisheries, the low level of recreational catch data and intel on this sector’s pressure on fish stocks is less than ideal.
It is an aspiration of the ITP that in 10 years’ time, commercial and recreational fishers, Māori, environmental groups, and government will work together to enhance the marine environment and support a productive and profitable industry.
This has to start with levelling out the playing field a little and acknowledging the things we share in common which is, not least, a passion for providing people with fresh, healthy seafood.