Restore depleted fisheries to abundant levels by applying international best practice standards when setting stock management targets
Depletion of our inshore fisheries affects both the marine environment and the people who rely on the sea for fishing.
Restoring depleted fish stocks to international best practice standards would mean more fish in the water and a more resilient marine environment.
For a fishery such as snapper this best practice standard is defined as at least 40% of the original stock size that existed in the absence of fishing. This is commonly referred to as B40. For slower growing species the standard is higher ie. B50 or B60.
We want our fisheries to be managed at B40 as a minimum, but Ministry officials and the commercial sector will not commit to restoring abundance to this level because of the catch reductions required. From their perspective, any cuts would cause short term economic pain that would hurt the profits of a few quota owners.
Historically, fisheries managers have targeted a much lower level, around B20 to B25. Commercial fishers seem content to fish down stocks and then keep those fisheries depleted. As long as the quotas can be caught and a profit made within a reasonable time there’s no pressure to change.
For example, the snapper stock in the Bay of Plenty is estimated to be below 10% (B10) of its original size. Recently commercial scallopers in the Nelson/Marlborough area could only catch around 10% of their allowable limit because the fishery was so depleted. The scallop fishery has since been closed for the 2016/17 season due to depletion issues. Something needs to be done.
Rebuilding fish stocks requires that less fish are killed each year. The upside is that once the target of B40 is reached more fish will be able to be taken without depleting the stock below 40%.
The current system is failing everyone, apart from those who make money from leasing quota and selling fish.
What this means for you
Managing our fisheries towards depletion is having drastic effects on our oceans ecosystem.
Low stock sizes are causing a great deal of friction between the commercial and non-commercial fishing sectors as they compete for access to a publicly owned resource.
These conflicts were manifested during recent reviews of kahawai, snapper, paua, scallops, crayfish, blue moki, blue cod, marlin and other fisheries.
The public has made it abundantly clear they are not interested in continuing to conserve fish just to see the commercial fishery continue unaffected, and using smaller minimum legal sizes to their advantage. The public have taken several cuts to their daily limits and many people voluntarily fish to a larger minimum size limit. Now it’s time for the commercial users to play their part.
Undoubtedly the recreational fishing experience is being badly affected by poor management decisions. Little regard has been given to our current fishing interests or our future wellbeing.
We need to rebuild our fisheries. That means changing policies so that management moves away from taking as much as we can without tipping over the edge, and instead focus on managing for abundance and sustainability. We can do this by setting a default minimum target of B40 across all our inshore fish stocks.
So when our fisheries managers make important decisions they are targeting a minimum stock size of B40. This will bring us into line with world best practice and lend some truth to the claims that our quota system is world-leading.
Let’s change the way our fisheries managers use the words “sustainable”. Sustainable is often used to describe the minimum level required to maintain revenue. We can change that so “sustainable” describes a more modern biological definition, one that moves us in the direction of the abundance of fish that our oceans once provided. Let’s make “sustainable” meaningful for future generations.
All sectors can benefit from having abundant fisheries. To achieve this we need policies to change, from maintaining the status quo and instead applying strategies that:
- rebuild stocks;
- protect the species that live alongside the target fisheries; and
- protect the seabed from mobile, bulk harvesting methods such as trawling and dredging.
We need to adopt a modern “ecosystem wide” approach to management, one that takes into account the interdependence of different species. After all, fish don’t live in isolation and neither do we.