Blue cod frustrations to be aired

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 09:07 18/07/2014

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A public meeting is being organised in Picton to thrash out the controversial blue cod fishing rules that have hit tourism in the town.

Labour candidate Janette Walker is behind the meeting after recreational fishermen and charter boat operators in the Marlborough Sounds spoke out yesterday , saying the regulations had hurt businesses.

A Picton think tank briefing note to Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman and Marlborough district councillors said regulation changes had seen a reported 7500 to 10,000 fisherman leaving the area.

According to the rules, recreational fishermen can keep only two blue cod a day, and the slot rule says they must be 30-35 centimetres long. This applies even to those who had caught the fish outside the Sounds and were travelling through.

Blue cod cannot be filleted on the water unless they are about to be eaten on board. There has been no change to the commercial quota.

National's Kaikoura MP, Colin King, and Kaikoura election candidate Stuart Smith said fishermen had to be patient and wait for a sustainable solution to manage blue cod fishing in the Marlborough Sounds.

But Walker said she had decided to organise a public meeting after hearing that fish stocks had plummeted and businesses that depended on recreational fishing tourism had taken a battering.

"The slot rule and the transit rule are a failure," Walker said. "A Niwa scientific review showed that in areas of the Marlborough Sounds there is an up-to-70 per cent drop in fish stock."

Charter boats had been hit, as fishermen didn't feel it was worth going out for "two piddly fish", Walker said. There was a domino effect on businesses, with 33 per cent of Havelock firms having closed down, Walker said.

King and Smith said they were sympathetic to fishermen but a longer-term wait for sustainable solutions was better than short-term pain.

Both agreed the slot rule and the transit rule should be abolished.

King said there was no silver-bullet solution.

"The slot rule is restrictive, meaning more fish (outside the 30-35cm range) are thrown back and are eaten by shags and barracuda or die.

"The government and my view is the sustainability of the fishery is paramount. How that is achieved is problematic."

The long-term solution was to manage the Sounds sustainably and replace biomass, but a solution won't be agreed until after the general election, King said.

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"It will come down to a very elaborate agreement on how the Sounds are managed. The issue of what the solution is is very complex, and will include a modification to the (reserves section) Conservation Act.

"A marine reserve would shut the Sounds off forever. We need a system that puts a moratorium for 5 to 10 years on a certain area of the Sounds and then open it up again."

Smith, who is also a recreational fisherman, said he did not doubt that fishermen had a point. "Fishermen have to be patient. We could rush off and make a decision that could go the wrong way. I would love to wave a magic wand but we simply don't have enough information to make a long-term decision that is sustainable."

- The Marlborough Express

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