The government's reduction of commercial catch limits accounts for illegal fishing and is cheating the industry, the New Zealand Rock Lobster Industry says.
From 1 April the commercial catch limit will be cut by 108 tonnes for the Wellington and Hawke's Bay regions, by 23 tonnes in the Gisborne region and by 15 tonnes in Otago.
Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy announced the changes this week to protect the fishery.
"The changes in rock lobster limits comes after feedback from tangata whenua and other fishery interests, and final advice from the National Rock Lobster Management Group (NRLMG) on a range of options for these important shared fisheries.
"Regular monitoring and amendments to catch limits are key parts of our fisheries management system. They are informed by science and ensure we have a flexible and responsive system."
However, Daryl Sykes from The New Zealand Rock Lobster Industry Council said the reduced catch limits showed the Minister was allowing fish thieves to take over 160 tonnes of rock lobsters from the east coast of the North Island.
Mr Sykes said he supported changing the catch limits, but not the minister accounting for so much illegal fishing when reducing them.
"The problem with allowing for it is you really reduce the incentive to go out and chase these people. From the Minister's point of view the sustainability of the fishery is not compromised if he's making sufficient allowance for all that is being removed from it."
Mr Sykes said this was important to both recreational and commercial fishers, who had an expectation of fishing success.
"The fishery and all the legitimate users are being cheated of a better outcome if the fish thieves are left to do their thing."
Despite many discussions on illegal fishing between the government and industry, the latest catch announcement made no mention of it, said Mr Sykes.
There was a huge level of uncertainty around how many rock lobsters were being caught, he said, and the new East Coast catch limits did not stack up.
"If you look at the allowance, particularly for CRA 3 and CRA 4 (Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Wellington), the combined allowance for illegal fishing in those two fisheries is greater than the combined allowance for recreational and customary fishing.
"My proposition is there is something not quite right there."
Mr Sykes said a lot of people invested in rock lobster fishing across New Zealand, commercial and recreational, were not happy.
"There is no one who is willing just to sit back and pretend we can't do anything about reducing illegal removals from those lobster fisheries."
The Ministry's director of fisheries management Dave Turner said that when it manages fish stocks it allows for other sources of mortality, such as illegal fishing.
"We work hard in the background to understand what the illegal take might be, but it's a bit of a thing of how long is a piece of string ... it's an illegal activity so no one will report it."
Mr Turner said there had not been a larger reduction in the recent catch limits to allow for illegal fishing.
"The reductions are simply because all stocks we adjusted this year have fluctuated. It's a completely normal, natural event.
"Stocks will naturally fluctuate up and down."
He said understanding the level of illegal fishing was up to the ministry's "compliance directorate".
"We have up to 100 fishery officers, over 200 honorary fishery officers, intelligence and investigation teams throughout the country.
"They spend a lot of time on the water, on the beaches and on the coast."
Information collected was fed back to the ministry to inform decisions on how to adjust catch limits, but they would never know the scale of illegal fishing, Mr Turner said.
"We have some prety strong assumptions but it's like how many people drink drive or how many people commit burglaries. You'll never know because it is an illegal activity."