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The dolphin decision - a cost/benefit analysis

Friday 26 June 2020

It’s landed, and the fallout is just beginning.

The Ministers of Fisheries and Conservation delivered the death knell to set-netting and large tracts of inshore fishing on Wednesday when they announced their decisions on the Hector’s and Maui Dolphin Threat Management Plan (TMP).

Promises were made of compensation, which is a welcomed component of the decisions. But little detail was supplied, there was talk was of ‘ex gratia payments’ and ‘business advice’. This will be cold comfort to small, generational fishermen who must now pass this bad news down to their crew, their processors and their families.

When pressured by media to put a figure on the cost to industry of the decision, the Ministers gave a wide ballpark of $30-$70 million. That’s a high price when the last verified Maui dolphin death attributed to fishing was 18 years ago. And in the South Island, affected fishers are even more aggrieved, with the 15 thousand strong Hector dolphin population increasing every year.

The industry will consider its options when it gets to see the decision letter and the Final Advice Papers. We must also await the detail of the compensation package, the headliner on which is already ringing very loud alarm bells because of who it doesn’t mention.

The communication from the Ministers’ offices states that compensation is only for commercial fishermen and Licensed Fish Retailers (LFRs).

What of quota owners? Those people who have bought the right to catch species of fish that will no longer be able to be caught?

And what of Maori, who received that quota in the Maori Fisheries Settlement?

Dion Tuuta, CEO of Te Ohu Kaimoana says the impact on Iwi traditional fisheries rights – commercial and non-commercial – will be significant.

“In some areas, it’s a double-whammy.  In Taranaki for instance, the Iwi will take a hit to their commercial quota and lose their traditional pataka system. Unlike other quota owners, Iwi cannot sell their Treaty-settlement commercial interests, yet the new measures will deny them the ability to utilise their traditional commercial fisheries in certain species."

Tuuta says he is not entirely sure whether this was fully understood or appreciated.

“In this instance I believe compensation is required for the loss of access to these valuable traditional rights.  Every iwi affected cannot simply move their customary rights to another part of the country to be fished.  The displacement effects could also be significant and it’s yet to be seen how it will play out.”

And let’s consider for a moment others affected by this decision.

Like the Timaru fisher who tells us he can’t even face going down to his boat, let alone out in it since the news broke. Like another, who has fished for 50 years in a conservative, sustainable manner who says his future has been taken away. Or the young man who sells all his butterfish to locals in Wellington, like the Upper Hutt Cosmopolitan Club and direct to the public. He fished the South Coast and West Coast of Wellington – both now dead to him. On Wednesday night he was agonising about how to tell his four crew. Kieran Boyle catches butterfish as well around the Wellington coast – well, not for much longer. He points out that, come 1 October, 10 vessels that were catching their fish on both the West and South Coast of Wellington will now be chasing butterfish in one small area from Pencarrow to Baring Head.

So, let’s look at our cost/benefit analysis. In the costs column we have lost jobs, revenue and livelihoods, cost to the Crown of compensation, and the tricky matter of the Treaty.

As the Government’s own TMP states that toxoplasmosis is killing 11-15 times more Maui dolphins than fishing, the Hector’s population is increasing and commercial fishing hasn’t caught a Maui since 2002, we are struggling to put ‘saving dolphins’ in the ‘benefits’ column.

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