22 Aug 2017

Weekend boaties call for better fish stock protection

1:25 pm on 22 August 2017

Decreasing fishing stocks are a concern for weekend boaties, but some say their fish-finding technology and leisure boats contribute to overfishing.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Geoff Rowling of Motueka remembers a time when he could take his boat out into Tasman Bay and guarantee a catch for dinner.

"I fished when I was a kid and fishing was pretty good and then I had a period when I didn't fish much, for a few years. When I went back fishing, in the early to mid 1990s, and it took me two years to catch my first snapper, I just couldn't believe how bad things had got."

Mr Rowling said while snapper stocks were recovering, they would not last without protection.

He is among a growing number calling for the formation of one organisation to work with the government on setting terms for the recreational fishing sector.

While there are strict rules around the management of commercial fisheries, there is little information about the impact recreational fishers are having on the resource.

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Dr Randall Bess Photo: The New Zealand Initiative

Fisheries academic Randall Bess is researching the subject for a national policy advisory think-tank, the New Zealand Initiative.

It was clear there was concern about decreasing fish stocks, he said.

Dr Bess is the research fellow for the advisory group's fisheries project. The work has involved a series of three reports that contribute to the debate on what needs to be fixed within the recreational fishing space

He is currently on a national roadshow to present a set of recommendations that came out of the reports, and to talk with local communities about their concerns. One key recommendation was the need for a commitment to managing a shared fishery.

"It's pretty obvious to people that historically the government's attention for managing fisheries has been in deep water fisheries, and had nothing to do with recreational fishers.

"We're getting more and more of the conflicts between fishing sectors in the inshore space and that's where we really need the commitment to improve things," Dr Bess said.

He has used successful overseas examples as benchmarks for change in New Zealand.

Mr Rowling is a past president of the Recreational Fishing Council, who now heads a group promoting management of the recreational fishery. He said it was time to end the long history of conflict between groups representing the interests of fishers.

"I just think we have spent the last 25 years arguing about trying to change legislation and that's not going to change. It's time we worked out how the fishing public of New Zealand fit in to fisheries management in today's world."

Former deep-sea commercial fisherman Michael Connolly, of Nelson, said it was not hard to see the problem as linked to the huge increase in ownership of leisure boats and technology that made fishing easier.

He said it was no longer unusual to find 8m aluminium fishing boats, or "tinnies", fishing for bluefin tuna 50km off the West Coast.

Mr Connolly, who is also commodore of the Pelorus Boating Club in the Marlborough Sounds, said the hardest part of forming a single organisation to represent the recreational sector would be finding a way to fund it.

One idea - to direct some petrol levies from fuel purchased by boaties into research - would open the door to too many competing claims, he said.

But the answer could instead involve the registration of boats, or in licensing, he said.

"Probably both would be brilliant, but one would be good enough. My favourite - not that it would be popular - is a licence fee. You can go all round the world and they're everywhere."

Dr Bess' next public meeting is in Christchurch on Wednesday.

The series ends in Napier in late September, when a final report and recommendations will be formed and released to the new government.