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It's Fishing Quota Time, Again!

The argument over the respective rights of commercial and recreational fishers always appears to come to the fore at this time of the year when conditions are more conducive to the amateurs gaining access to productive waters, more often.

They recreational fishers have one of the most effective lobbying groups in the country – namely the Sport Fishing Council, and over the years they have been relentless in threatening political reaction from the huge number of fishers whom it claims to represent. No Government has been in a position to ignore this lobby.

The commercial fishers are equally well represented at Parliament, but by simple weight of numbers, take second place to the ubiquitous amateurs when it comes to securing the attention of ministers. Stuart Nash is now ‘feeling the heat’ as both sides lobby and counter-lobby in order to gain the upper hand, but the recreational sector have the distinct advantage when waving the ‘ballot-box’ flag.

What we do know is that the actual recreational fishers are a heterogeneous crowd, naturally secretive, and highly protective of their existing rights while attempting to extend same, and that while demand extends over time, a far more important factor lies in the increase in the quality and size of equipment, and the electronic devices used to locate their catches. I recall a survey of boat trailers in major ramp car-parks on the 'big-day' after New Year's Day that showed a significant increase in length over time - an increase that has almost certainly extended since.

The 2016 reduction in the allowable catch (and let us be quite clear, we are talking snapper as the main target species) was resisted precisely because these fishers know that they are often quite capable of filling their quota rapidly – particularly in this area from around the mussel rafts.

It is inevitable that the sector will continue to seek ”priority allocation" by whatever means are available to it. The commercial sector will continue to resist, as have successive governments, but for how long?

Dr Randall Bess – author of The future Catch: Preserving the recreational fisheries for the next generation” which is available on The New Zealand Initiative website, explains his "proportionality" argument in an article in today’s NZH    

“A viable solution for total allowable catch allocations is to set them on a proportional basis to provide certainty of catch for each sector and include a ministerial process that 1) transfers portions of the allowable catch to the recreational sector as demand for fishing increases over time, and 2) considers compensation for affected quota holders.

Proportionality, as proposed, would effectively ensure recreational fishing is preserved for future generations, while upholding the legislative rights associated with quota and Treaty settlement obligations.”

If this is the solution, then we are tax-payers should be very concerned because it amounts to nothing more than a massive, if indirect cash transfer for the benefit of one, albeit substantial sector – recreational fishers. This would occur through eye-watering compensation of the commercial sector who in some areas of the country could be completely phased out over time in order to open up more and more fishing quota to the burgeoning recreational sector.

One has to ask just how can this be justified? The net result would not only be reflected through the taxation system, but through the certain increase in the price of one of our most valued and nutritious commodities. We (non-fishers) would therefore be paying twice in order to simply give greater rights to 'Joe Bloggs' recreational fishers to “put a (bigger!) feed on the table” – a emotive claim that is demonstrably unfair, and unjust.   

The balance between recreational and commercial fishers may be extremely difficult, but it will not be equitably  achieved through this simplistic notion of Dr Randall Bess.

More rigorous policing and prosecution of both sectors may be called for, and perhaps a further reduction in the recreational quota may be justified, if unwelcome. After all, how many fish constitute an adequate ‘feed’?

And what about the recreational fees advocated by Dr Bess in an earlier article?




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