Fishermen keep mum on cod blues

JARED NICOLL
Last updated 11:36 06/03/2013

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Marlborough's fishermen are more unhappy than visitors about blue cod rules in the Sounds, but they're less likely to talk about it, according to student research.

Victoria University environmental science PhD candidate Alyssa Thomas has gathered the thoughts of 300 fishermen in the Marlborough Sounds so far for a research project on how they feel about the Ministry for Primary Industries' management of blue cod fishing.

On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being very dissatisfied, Marlborough residents give the rules an average score of 1.8 while non-residents gave the rules an average of 3.2.

The most common concern revolved around the ministry's 30-35-centimetre "slot rule" which states that anything caught outside that range had to be returned to the sea. According to the ministry, ignoring the slot, usually by refusing to return big fish, was the main breach of rules in the Sounds.

Ms Thomas has travelled around Picton, Waikawa and Havelock since the start of January, quizzing fishermen and will return to Marlborough from Wellington to discuss the results later in the year.

The Cawthron Institute's 2009 report, Marlborough Sounds Recreational Fishers Characterisation, showed close to 50 per cent of the area's recreational fishers came from Marlborough area, though only 30 per cent of Ms Thomas' survey respondents did.

She said she was still taking reports so the results were not yet complete, but she had a few theories on why Marlborough's fishermen were less happy than visitors when it came to blue cod.

"Many non-residents come up to the Sounds only once a year and being able to continue to fish there is not as important to them so they don't mind the rules or the perceived waste that is resulting from the slot. Whereas many of the Marlborough residents go fishing on a regular basis and have more of a vested interest in the long-term sustainability of the blue cod population."

Another theory was that fishing in the Sounds could be better than other areas like Christchurch, and maybe Nelson, so they did not mind the rules so much as they appeared to be working.

"Perhaps many of the visitors do not go fishing enough to see the harm that is apparently being done by these rules or have good luck on their fewer trips out fishing and don't have to throw back so many fish to get the keepers."

She hoped to nail down the theories after completing a full analysis of the results.

The majority of the anglers rated their satisfaction the lowest possible at 1 or 2 on a scale of 5, and only 20 per cent rated it highly with a 4 or 5.

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The slot rule was the highest point of contention, she said, because they were concerned over the mortality rate of fish thrown back.

The ministry released figures in October compiled by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) during a study in 2010 on blue cod in the Sounds that showed the numbers were bouncing back after a complete ban on blue cod recreational fishing from 2008 to 2010. The "slot rule" was introduced when the ban was partially lifted in 2011.

The most popular alternative suggested in the survey was to allow people to keep the first two fish over 33 centimetres.

For more information or to fill in a survey contact Ms Thomas at alyssa.thomas@vuw.ac.nz

- The Marlborough Express

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