Recreational fishery rights, governance and allocations
The popularity and demand for recreational fishing in New Zealand has resulted in conflict between recreational and commercial fishers when both sectors compete for access to the same limited resource in fully exploited fisheries. This is particularly an issue for inshore fisheries, both finfish and shellfish.
At the individual level, recreational fishers may fish for any species almost anywhere in the country. Some species have minimum size limits and many popular species have daily bag limits. However, these are not 'hard' constraints on the total catch because any member of the public can exercise the right to go fishing. If participation rates change and as the general population grows, fixed bag limits may result in changing total recreational take. If total recreational take expands and the TAC is set correctly, ensuring that the overall take remains within the TAC could result in the growth in recreational catch being accommodated by reducing the commercial share (the TACC). However, this undermines the value of commercial rights and the increased uncertainty about TACC levels reduces incentives for the industry to invest in conserving or adding value to the fishery.
This highlights the differing nature of the access right provided to recreational and commercial fishers. Recreational fishers are entitled, as of right, to go fishing in the sea (no permit is required) but this public access right can be, and is, subject to regulatory restrictions empowered by statute. For commercial fishers, the QMS has created statutory rights that have some of the characteristics of property – and have been recognised as such by the courts. This more specific definition of rights for commercial fishers provides a range of benefits to industry and government, including the great advantage in management of being able to more tightly constrain total catch. By contrast, the total catch taken by the recreational sector is not under such direct management control. This creates particular difficulties for management when recreational catch is expanding in a stock that is already fully exploited.
Fisheries management outcomes, particularly maximisimg value, and credibility, can be enhanced considerably by increasing the levels of engagement by fisheries stakeholders. This is a key component of the Ministry's objectives-based fisheries management approach, including the development of fisheries plans. However, stakeholders in the non-commercial sector tend to lack the capacity, experience, and resources to participate effectively. Input from the recreational sector is currently heavily reliant on a very few individuals who are willing to expend the time to engage in Ministry processes, and tends to focus on high profile national issues. Further, only a small fraction of recreational fishers belong to recreational fishing organisations, which undermines the credibility of those organisations claiming to represent recreational interests at a national level.
The conflict inherent in the allocation of catch between sectors, and the dispersed nature of interests means that consensus on potential solutions is unlikely and controversy may be unavoidable if significant improvements are to be made. A combination of measures that addresses the needs and values of all sectors is likely to be required. Such a package could draw on a wide range of options including selective spatial separation, managing stocks for high biomass levels ('above Bmsy'), increasing use of advisory bodies, and increased certainty around allocation criteria including consideration of redress in appropriate circumstances (such as re-allocation from one sector to another after acknowledging the contribution of different sectors to the current state of the fishery). Such measures would build on the recent initiatives to improve consultation and would improve incentives for better interest representation. Options to address capacity deficiencies include supporting the development of better-resourced and organised groups through which views and input could be channelled.
To address these issues, the Ministry has a range of initiatives underway, including a policy project to explore options to increase the social, cultural and economic value of shared fisheries by improving intersectoral access and allocation, and providing administrative and policy support to the newly appointed Recreational Fishing Ministerial Advisory Committee and the regional recreational forums.