Minister's Address to NZ Recreational Fishing Council conference
21 July 2000
There can't be many New Zealanders who've never been fishing. For a lot of us, me included, going fishing is part of what it means to be a New Zealander. Especially if we catch something.
We're a small country in a big ocean. For most of our history we haven't really bothered with arguments about our right to fish. They were out there and we caught them. There seemed to be enough for everybody.
But our growth as a nation has changed that. We've still got top-notch recreational fishing in many areas, but it's getting harder to find.
More people are going recreational fishing. Popular areas are getting busier all the time. They're often the same areas that are popular with commercial fishers and with Maori exercising their customary rights.
While fishing effort grows, the areas available for fishing are slowly shrinking. Marinas and other commercial developments, marine protected areas, aquaculture and restrictions on access to wharves and private land are all nibbling away at the space available for recreational fishers.
Environmental pressures are taking their toll on fish stocks. We don't understand these pressures anywhere near well enough, but we know that siltation, run-off from land-based pollution and destructive fishing methods all have an effect.
These factors all increase concern about the quality of recreational fishing. But recreational fishers aren't highly organised when it comes to representing those concerns. We haven't got a clear understanding of how to balance recreational with commercial and Maori customary access to fisheries. And we haven't got good information on how recreational, commercial and Maori customary fishing affect each another.
The upshot is that we can't go on taking recreational fishing rights for granted. They are under pressure now or will become so in the future. It's time to figure out how we want to define them and protect them.
We're lucky to have a fisheries management framework that lets us do that. The Quota Management System is a rights-based approach to managing fisheries. In 1986 it created perpetual, transferable rights for operators in the major commercial fisheries. More recently there's been a major effort to define Maori customary fishing rights more clearly in the law. Now we need to do that for the rights of recreational fishers.
As you know, a joint working group of New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council representatives and Ministry of Fisheries officials began looking at marine recreational fishing issues in September 1998. I support that effort. I support the joint working group's guiding vision of healthy coastal fisheries with good access and flexible, inclusive management.
Today I'm releasing a public discussion document on ways to improve the management of marine recreational fishing. It's called Soundings and it was drafted by the joint working group, which is going to manage the public consultation process.
This document will be distributed and advertised widely. There will be public meetings and hui later in the year. We'll be taking submissions till November, then analysing them and working towards some policy decisions in about March next year.
I'm pretty pleased with the quality of the discussion document. There are a lot of tough issues here, with no easy answers. The joint working group has put them all on the table so we can have a free and frank debate.
I really encourage you to think over the issues carefully. Talk about them. Work up some constructive suggestions. There will be angles and options the working group hasn't even thought of. The more ideas we get, the better.
I'll go into some details on the options in this document later, but first I want to make it clear what our objectives are in launching this process. There are three.
The first is to more clearly specify the relationship between recreational, commercial and customary fishing rights.
The second is to ensure that we develop a management framework that helps us make decisions about spatial allocations affecting recreational fishing. These are decisions about conflicts over particular areas of water, for example between mussel farmers and recreational fishers in the Marlborough Sounds.
The third objective is to encourage recreational fishers to take greater responsibility for managing recreational fishing.
There's a big picture behind this.
We've begun working on the development of an Oceans Policy. Through that exercise, which is on a three-year track, we want to identify the goals for managing New Zealand's marine environment as a whole.
We don't have an integrated and comprehensive legal framework for managing this country's vast ocean resource. We've got a patchwork of laws and policies that has a few holes, some overlaps and a number of hopelessly tangled threads. We're setting out to tidy that up. You'll be invited to help, because recreational fishers are an invaluable source of experience and expertise. And the recreational fishing review will both inform the Oceans Policy process and be informed by it.
Also part of the big picture is the Biodiversity Strategy the Government announced in March. We're investing just over $40 million in the next five years in research and management of marine biodiversity and marine biosecurity. I reckon our understanding of the marine environment is a century or so behind our understanding of the land. The work programme in the Biodiversity Strategy is a big step towards catching up.
A discussion paper on aquaculture law reform is also coming out soon. And my colleague the Minister of Conservation, Sandra Lee, will be releasing a marine reserve consultation document in the next few months. So the work on recreational fishing is part of a wide-ranging effort by this Government to improve the way we manage our marine environment.
Now when you get a chance to read through the discussion document you'll find three options for the future management of recreational fishing. They've been laid out to stimulate and inform debate. They're not the last word on what's likely or possible. Like I said earlier, we're looking for new ideas. Inevitably there will be other options, or combinations, that the Joint Working Group has not included.
The options, in order of appearance, are:
- First, a discretionary share of the fishery for recreational fishing.
- Second, a proportional share.
- Third, the establishment of formal recreational management rights.
The first option, giving a discretionary share of the fishery for recreation, is based on the management framework we've got now. The Minister of Fisheries would decide the relative shares of total catches for commercial, recreational and customary Maori fishers. The allocation of the customary Maori catch would come first, as it does already, but neither commercial nor recreational fishers would have priority over each other. The shares would vary, in other words, at the Minister's discretion.
The second option, giving a proportional share of the fishery for recreation, would also keep a central role for the Government. But instead of the relative commercial and recreational shares of total catch varying at the Minister's discretion, they would be set at a fixed ratio. The ratio could vary according to the fish stock, so we might have, say, fifty-fifty shares of one fish species and sixty-forty shares of another. The total catch limit could go up and down from year to year, but the relative shares would stay the same.
As a variation on this option, recreational fishing could be given priority over commercial. The recreational share of the fishery would increase as the recreational catch increased, at the expense of the commercial share. That would mean the recreational share of the fishery could keep pace with population growth. It would protect the quality of opportunity for recreational fishers, although the commercial opportunity would suffer.
A combination of proportional shares in some fisheries and priority shares in others would clearly be possible as well.
Option three, the establishment of recreational management rights, would build on option two by creating legally recognised and accountable recreational fishing groups. The recreational and commercial shares of the fishery would be made clearer in law, with proportional or preferential shares or a combination of the two. Recognised recreational fishing groups would be able to participate in the management of the recreational share.
This would clearly involve a significant increase in the organisation and responsibilities of recreational fishing organisations. That could be handled either in an incremental fashion, so that groups were set up where there was an interest in doing so, or in a single comprehensive effort to cover the country.
We would have to work out how those organisations established their mandate to represent recreationists. We would also have to work out how they could be funded. There are a range of possibilities there: licensing, tags, membership, leasing quota, sponsorship, grants and levies.
I was a bit surprised to see the extent of that list. Licensing and leasing quota, for example, challenge Labour's pre-election policy.
Let me read that policy to you: "A Labour Government will not impose a recreational sea fishing licence as a condition of exercising the individual right to go fishing. Nor will we require the recreational sector to operate within a quota, as though it was a commercial fisher."
But recreational fishing representatives on the Joint Working Group want the full range of options discussed. I don't think I should censor the debate, even if the Government rules out some options, or restricts their application in the future. We want the fishing public's views on all matters, and this is the way to get them. We are open to new ideas, and to new ways of applying old ideas.
I haven't gone into the pros and cons of the three options, because the discussion paper does that. Please read it. Think about it. Take your time. Chew things over while you're out on the boat, the beach or the jetty. Getting time to think is one of the beauties of fishing. I look forward to hearing what you come up with.