OPINION: Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy appears confused about the status of the Marlborough blue cod fisheries.
On the one hand the minister states "there are no concerns about the sustainability of the fisheries" and then goes on to say that there are early signs that blue cod numbers are down in some parts of the Sounds.
Nathan Guy then says that later this year there will be a review of a preliminary Niwa report, and "we need to get the science right".
How many people does it take to wallop a cod?
The Niwa report shows quite clearly that cod numbers in Queen Charlotte Sound have dropped by 70 per cent. In Pelorus Sound cod stocks have dropped 50 per cent.
It is logical to expect fish numbers to drop immediately after a closed fishery is re-opened. But a 70 per cent drop in the first 22 months? What will the state of the fishery be in 2016 if biomass continues to fall this fast?
Minister Guy fails to answer the question, instead resorting to obfuscation and procrastination, something he is renowned for. While he sits on his hands over the silly slot rule, the chances of our blue cod stocks recovering reduce by the day.
It is imperative that better management structures are put in place as soon as possible.
It is no surprise that blue cod stock numbers are abundant around D'Urville Island, supported by the preliminary Niwa report. Weather, distance and difficult sea conditions limit access by recreational fisher to those fisheries.
The Inner Sounds region has a heavy concentration of recreational fishers, simply due to ease of access.
The latest draft paper from Guy's own ministry (Landing Survey Marlborough Sounds) indicates that the recreational catch in the area which includes the Sounds region is about 77 tonnes. This does not include charter boat catch.
Charter boat reporting indicates approximately 5 tonnes, although the exact amount isn't clear, so all up approximately 83 tonnes of blue cod was caught. Some estimate a more realistic figure to be about 100 tonnes.
The ministry's data focuses on the number of fish caught and brought home. There is no mention of the tonnage of fish that die when caught and released under the silly slot rule, from shag and barracouta predation.
To further illustrate the stupidity and wanton waste of the slot rule, one charter boat's blue cod catch data made available to me (Guy also has these figures) shows 838 cod were caught and 686 kept in the period November 2010 to March 2011, before the slot rule. Following the introduction of the slot rule, 6082 blue cod were caught from April 2011 to January 2013 but only 525 kept - so less than 10 per cent were in the slot.
These figures are accurate and relate to only one charter boat operator.
Even if only half the cod that are returned die, how can these catch figures possibly ensure a sustainable blue cod fishery for the future?
Further rationale for abolishing the slot rule come from the recent findings following doctoral research on blue cod recreational fisher practices and rule compliance in the Marlborough Sounds. The research shows more than 35 per cent of fishers surveyed broke the slot rule.
Recreational fishers generally don't have a problem breaking a rule like the slot if they feel the rule is harming the fishery. The research also showed there is less guilt associated in breaking a rule seen as not effective, if breaking the rule is seen as more beneficial than the rule compliance. People see the harm and make a decision to minimise the harm.
The failure of the slot rule to maintain a sustainable fishery also impacts on the Marlborough economy. Prior to the slot rule there were five or six charter boat operators in the Havelock region. Now there is one.
When these boats operate, charter groups stay in towns like Havelock, requiring accommodation, food and beverage.
It is glaringly obvious that the slot rule is a failure. How long is Nathan Guy going to take before he acts to ensure the Marlborough Sounds fisheries are managed for generations to come?
- Janette Walker is the Labour Party candidate in the Kaikoura electorate, which includes all of the Marlborough region.
- The Marlborough Express