In our industry there is no such thing as snap decisions...just snapper decisions. And right now, there are big decisions being made – whether to increase the total allowable catch for three major snapper stocks. 

Our industry is committed to providing quality sustainable seafood to New Zealanders as well as consumers across the globe. As we do that, we’re contributing to the economic recovery of Aotearoa New Zealand – and the economic wellbeing of our own communities.  

To exist and thrive we need fish stocks to be healthy, now and forever. Twice a year we take part in a stringent Government process that reviews science showing abundance, health, and sustainability of specific fish populations, and puts forward recommendations. 

This process culminates in a plenary, where independent reviewers (hired by the Government) are brought in to make sure scientific conclusions and outputs are sound. 

As a result of the most recent plenary, Fisheries New Zealand is now consulting on proposed catch limit changes for almost 20 stocks – including the increase in total allowable catch increase for three snapper stocks (SNA 2, 7, and 8).  

So, how are our snapper going? 

For the past few years, we’ve been hearing from commercial fishers off the east coast of the North Island that snapper in the area are going great guns. We were also hearing this from our reccie fisher friends in the Hawke's Bay.

This sort of news is always good to hear. However, decisions around total allowable catch increases can’t solely be based on what fishers see out on the water, they need to be underpinned by good science. 

This is where Seafood New Zealand can help – we can help coordinate the science. For snapper in SNA 2, following fisher reports, we commissioned Catch-Per-Unit-Effort (CPUE) updates for the past four years. These updates indicated substantial increases in catch rates and therefore abundance of SNA 2.  

Our research provider then presented these findings to the plenary in May and they were accepted to provide a credible trend in biomass, indicating no sustainability concerns in this fishery. Fisheries New Zealand is now consulting on a total allowable catch increase of up to 30% for SNA 2.

The science also indicates that larger increases might be sustainable, which is great but there is concern regarding the potential flow-on effects from Cyclone Gabrielle on productivity.  

In addition to the CPUE work, following the devastating Cyclone Gabrielle, we undertook a spatial analysis of three key fish stocks, including SNA 2, to better understand changes in location of fishing effort and how that might be impacting overall catch rates, and the sustainability of the stock. 

So, with all this in mind we’re being cautious and are committed to ensuring the ongoing sustainability of our stocks. We will be updating the ‘rapid CPUE’ abundance monitoring tool next year and will likely do the same the following year to detect any effects of the cyclone and to monitor response to increased catch, if confirmed. 

An obvious question at this point is what about the reports of milky fleshed snapper in places like parts of the Hauraki Gulf.  This phenomenon hasn’t featured in SNA 2, which is the area our research was focused. But this is also a good time to point out that MPI (the Ministry for Primary Industries) has just released the results of recent and ongoing testing, looking at the condition.   

It’s media release quoted Fisheries New Zealand’s Director Science & Information, Simon Lawrence, saying “the evidence suggests a complex interplay between factors, including extended La Niña weather patterns and warmer waters causing lower production of the phytoplankton and zooplankton that provide important food sources at the bottom of the food chain.  

And that “a lack of food was the likely cause of the syndrome, but there was no evidence to suggest that fishing was the cause of that." 

“Overall, we’ve been seeing more snapper in the Hauraki Gulf for some time. The fishery is abundant, with plenty of younger fish entering the stock, all competing for food. 

"Commercial fishing does not affect the main food sources of snapper.” 

The fact is, no decisions are made lightly when it comes to our fisheries. There is a colossal amount of science going on in the background to inform sustainable fisheries management and to ensure economic prosperity. We are proud of the part we have in the plenary process, and love to see our science making a difference for our fishers.

Read the full The Update online