Species Focus - Snapper (Pagrus auratus)
Snapper is arguably New Zealand's most important finfish species. It is an iconic recreational and customary catch in northern New Zealand. It is also an important commercial catch in this same area.
Commercial fishers target snapper using a range of methods: longline, trawl, Danish seine, beach seine and set nets. Snapper are also often taken as by-catch in northern fisheries.
Non-commercial fishers catch snapper using fishing rods and lines from boats and the shore, and on a small scale, set nets.
Snapper was overfished in many places around New Zealand in the 1960s and 70s. Commercial landings peaked in 1978, at 18,000 tonnes. Rebuild of these snapper stocks has been slow, with several still below the government's target level.
Status of the stocks
There are four major snapper management areas in New Zealand - East Northland/Hauraki Gulf/Bay of Plenty (SNA1), West Coast North Island (SNA8), East Coast North Island (SNA2), and Marlborough/ Tasman (SNA7). All are currently managed towards producing the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of fish, although some stocks are still below this level.
The SNA1 and SNA8 areas have the largest fish stocks. These are monitored using tagging programmes, information on size and age of fish caught, and commercial catch/effort data. Fish in SNA2 and SNA7 are monitored using information on size and age of the catch.
A recent tagging survey of snapper in SNA8 showed stocks there were not rebuilding as fast as the government had hoped. So catch limits were cut recently, to speed up the rebuild.
Stock assessments indicate that fish stocks in East Northland are at or above the government's target level.
Assessments indicate that fish stocks in the Hauraki Gulf/Bay of Plenty are still below the government's target level. So catch limits there have been set to allow rebuilding.
The fish stocks in SNA2 were recently found to have rebuilt to a level where the catch could be increased.
Current management issues
A tagging survey is planned for the SNA1 fishery management area.
Surveys of recreational fishers in the SNA1 area were done during the 2003/04 and 04/05 summers.
These will tell us more about the recreational catch in this area. The results from the SNA1 recreational harvest survey should be available in late 2006.
A survey of recreational catch in SNA8 is planned for 2006/07. Results from this should be available in early-2008.
Recreational fishers would like snapper catches reduced to below the MSY level. This would leave more fish in the sea, and let fishers catch larger fish more easily. The government is currently looking into this issue.
Snapper catch limits and allowances
The catch limits and allowances for snapper have been set at 10,133 tonnes for the 2005/06 fishing year.
Of this, the government has allowed 3165 tonnes to cover the combined recreational and customary catch. It has also allowed 611 tonnes to cover things like theft (poaching and illegal sales), illegal fishing (eg mis-reporting), and wastage or injury of fish. Commercial fishers have been allocated 6357 tonnes.
A variety of catch limits, size limits, gear restrictions, and closures are used to manage our snapper fisheries. These include minimum size limits and daily catch limits for recreational fishers.
Management measures also include trawling and Danish seining bans in all the harbours of SNA1 and SNA8, and many of the large sheltered bays in SNA1. This protects young snapper, and reduces conflict between commercial and non-commercial fishers.