Fisheries management – Expert Reaction

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash has proposed a series of changes to how fisheries are managed in New Zealand.

The Government is calling for public submissions on new rules that aim to reduce unnecessary waste in the industry. The proposal focuses on what fish must be brought back to port, what fish can be returned to the sea and penalties for misconduct.

The SMC has asked experts to comment on the proposed reform.

Prof Simon Thrush FRSNZ, Director Institute of Marine Science, University of Auckland, comments:

“It is good to see high-level action to improve New Zealand’s fisheries management. The vision of the Minister calls for abundant and sustainable fisheries, thriving communities and healthy marine ecosystems. This reform consultation document is a small step towards this laudable goal.

“The review is very narrowly focused and avoids the big challenges fishers and fisheries managers face in realising this vision. What about the effects of climate change, impacts on marine ecosystems, restoration of depleted stocks and the balance in use of our oceans between multiple users? In New Zealand, many of us are closely connected to our coasts and oceans, and we value it in very different ways.

“There is the need for independent scientific evidence to support evidence-based decisions. Bringing new thinking and technological applications to fisheries will require innovation, partnership and diversity. We are lagging behind many developed countries, although we have the capacity in New Zealand to do much better.

“What is actually needed to support the Minister’s vision is the implementation of ecosystem-based management. This means fairness and effective management for all – including those who value marine environments for very different reasons. It is great to see a discussion focused on responsibilities, not rights, as this is a major issue requiring broad debate.”

Conflict of interest: Prof Thrush worked on the environmental effects of fishing in government-funded research programmes in the 1990s.

Prof Liz Slooten, Zoology Department, Otago University, comments:

“A dramatic reduction in the amount of fish dumped at sea is urgently needed. The MPI proposal is rather limited in scope and not likely (in its current form) to achieve this. One of the options on the list should be that all fish caught must be brought back to port. In countries where this has been done, it has led innovation to the point that nowadays the fish fillets are the byproduct. Almost every part of a fish can be used. As mentioned under Option 1 (tightening the rules for, but not banning, fish dumping) this will incentivise innovation.

“Another improvement would be to ban bulk fishing methods, like gillnets and trawling. The fish dumping that is currently taking place is the direct result of having a Quota Management System that gives fishermen quota for one fish species at a time, while allowing them to use fishing methods that catch many species at once. That means the less valuable fish species and fish sizes end up being dumped at sea. As quota holders, the large fishing companies are sending fishing boats out to sea with a ‘shopping list’ of what species and sizes they want them to catch. But they send them out with fishing methods that provide no control over what is caught. The result is large amounts of fish dumped at sea. We can not afford to continue to squander our precious fish resources this way.

“Likewise, the case studies of innovation include modifications to trawling gear. Trawl gear should instead be banned. It is extremely damaging to fish stocks, protected species and marine habitats. Modifying the gear is essentially a PR exercise, rather than a real change in how fishing is done. Fishermen using fish traps, hook and line methods and other environmentally sound fishing methods should be rewarded, rather than spending large amounts of government funding on a PR exercise for trawling. There is currently no evidence that ‘precision seafood harvesting’ works, certainly not in reducing environmental impacts.

“Other ways in which the document is very limited is that it does not include an evaluation of the Quota Management System and no plans for placing monitoring cameras on fishing vessels.”

No conflict of interest.