Group keen to clean up Sounds cod catch laws

The blue cod rules covering fishing in the Marlborough Sounds need a commonsense review, according to a representative on the Blue Cod Management Group.

Allan Davidson, representing the Coalition of the Combined Clubs of Wellington, said the coalition supported simple, effective rules to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery.

The group wants the minimum legal size increased, the 30-35cm slot rule abolished, along with the "transit" rule, and one set of rules for the whole Marlborough Sounds management area.

His comments follow a court ruling in the case against Christchurch man Mathew Cox, whose family owns a bach in the Sounds.

He was carrying filleted blue cod when he was stopped by fisheries enforcement officers at Waikawa in August last year, which breaches one of the rules introduced when the sounds fishery was re-opened in 2011.

Mr Cox chose to defend the charge rather than accept a $500 fine, saying he wanted to know whether he could transport filleted blue cod from his family's bach in Queen Charlotte Sound by boat.

The Ministry for Primary Industries prosecution told the judge they did not want any penalty imposed.

Mr Davidson said the ministry seemed to welcome the court case as an opportunity to get clarification on the confusing transit rule.

Judge John Strettell, who issued his ruling on the opening day of the season on Friday, said he accepted the "absence of fault" defence and found Mr Cox not guilty.

"While Judge Strettell's written decision states that the case should not be seen as a precedent for others, it certainly encourages those in the community who advocate a more commonsense approach to the rules," Mr Davidson said.

The coalition was one such group, which supported well-written rules to deter people from committing crimes, while making it easy for enforcement officers to apprehend offenders - and simple for courts to prosecute offenders.

"Less well-devised rules, such as the present blue cod recreational fishing rules, at worst have the potential to turn honest people into criminals," he said.

They then had the embarrassment of having to clear their name.

The rules also confused recreational fishermen as they tried to follow them.

He saw Judge Strettell's ruling as meaning it should not be a criminal offence for bach owners to fillet their fish at the bach, then transport their catch home, provided they stayed within the size and daily catch limits.

The transit rule also prevents fisherman who go outside the Sounds management area from transporting fish back through the inner Sounds, where the daily bag limit of two and the slot rule applies.

The regulations are designed to ensure the sustainability of the fishery, but transporting legally caught fish from another management area back through the sounds could not be seen to be having any effect on sustainability in the sounds.

The Coalition of the Combined Clubs of Wellington is working with representatives of the Marlborough Recreational Fishers Association, Tasfish, SoundFish and Sounds residents associations on the Blue Cod Management Group to persuade Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy to review blue cod regulations.

The Marlborough Express