When you catch a fish this Christmas ...
27 December 2002
When you catch a fish this Christmas, spare a thought for the rest of the world.
According to the Ministry of Fisheries (MFish), New Zealand is now one of the few places in the world where fisheries are both economically and sustainably managed. This is because New Zealand is one of only a handful of countries with a comprehensive fisheries management system.
"Most people are aware of the damage to commercial fisheries overseas through over-fishing - the collapse of the North Sea cod industry, highlighted in recent media reports, is just the latest example," said Michael Arbuckle from MFish.
"What they don't hear about so often is that inshore fisheries in many parts of the world are also under huge pressure and communities dependent on inshore fishing or tourism around recreational fishing are being hit hard."
"New Zealand is a different story. That's because we are able to sustainably manage our fisheries through the Quota Management System. It has been around long enough now that New Zealanders don't remember that in the 1970s, just before it was introduced, many of our inshore fisheries were over-fished and New Zealand derived very little economic benefit from their use."
By way of example, commercial scallop fishing began in Tasman Bay at the top of the South Island in 1959. Catches were initially small, but the numbers of boats fishing and the catch rapidly increased in the 1970s, with a catch of 1,250 tonnes (meat weight) in the peak year 1975. The fishery then collapsed, with a catch of just 40 tonnes in 1980, before it was closed for two years.
Careful management of the resource since the early 1980s by MFish and the industry through Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company has enabled the fishery to return to commercial and environmental health. A key decision that enabled industry to make a substantial and long term commitment to enhancing the fishery was the introduction of the QMS to inshore fishing in 1986 and to the Southern Scallop Fishery in 1992.
The spin-off for recreational fishing is immense. Both the scallop fishery in Nelson and the northern snapper fishery, once fished to a state of crisis in the 1980s, are now world class.
Overall the benefits to New Zealand through sustainable management of our fisheries have been huge. The sector was worth just $200 million a year in the 1970s but now contributes over $1.5 billion in annual export earnings, employs more than 10,000 people and is New Zealand's fourth largest foreign exchange earner behind dairy, meat and forestry products.
"Two thirds of current exports were untapped resources 20 years ago. Now they form the nucleus of a vibrant and growing sector. Crustaceans are particularly sought after in Asia, while stocks like Hoki have big appeal in the United States and Europe. New Zealand's main markets include Australia, Japan, North America and Europe.
While New Zealand's QMS was perceived by some countries to be experimental in the 1980s, Mr Arbuckle said it is now recognised internationally as a highly successful and innovative fisheries management regime that has created wealth and jobs as well as protecting the environment and recognising the interests of recreational fishers.
"With the establishment of the QMS the demise of our inshore fisheries was halted. Most stocks with biomass and productivity data that are known are now above sustainable levels or on the pathway to recovery. The QMS is a proven platform for sustainable fishing, economic development, and the settlement of Maori Treaty claims."
Under the 1992 Deed of Settlement, Maori are allocated 20 percent of the commercial fishing resource as it is introduced to the QMS
In 1986, 27 species or groups of similar species were brought into the QMS. Now there are more than 55 species or species complexes and it is expected within the next three years there will be 40 more quota species.
Bringing new species into the QMS is always the difficult part because it involves creating individual property rights which are often worth many millions of dollars.
Once they are created they can be sold, but naturally when the rights are first allocated everyone involved in that fishery wish to ensure their interests are recognized in gaining a share of the "cake".
According to Michael some conflict is inevitable, but it is a small cost to pay to achieve a system that has saved New Zealand from the huge damage and dislocation suffered elsewhere from over-fishing.
"By managing the fisheries, there can be fish for this generation and the next and for commercial operators and the kids fishing from a dingy or the wharf over the summer holidays."
Which is food for thought as you sit down to a meal of fresh-caught snapper, tarakihi or cod these holidays.
Note: Michael Arbuckle is a senior manager with the Ministry of Fisheries and was, until recently, Chief Executive of the Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company. He was also an establishment director of the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council from 1997 to 1999 and holds a B.Sc in Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology and a M.Sc. (Hons) in Resource Management.
For further Information please contact:
Ministry of Fisheries
Mobile: (021) 822-588