Recreational fishers could have their daily snapper catch slashed from nine to just three fish in Auckland and the upper North Island.
The drastic proposal is part of plans to save the snapper population which has collapsed alarmingly in the waters around Auckland, the Bay of Plenty and Northland.
It has fanned widespread anger among thousands of recreational fishers, who are outraged there is little change to commercial quotas.
"What we're facing is a loss of fundamental rights, a loss of income for business owners, and importantly a loss of food on the table for families," said Mandy Kupenga, spokeswoman for recreational fishery representatives LegaSea.
The proposed reductions to the recreational catch are a restriction on the rights of New Zealanders to gather food, she said.
ITM Fishing Show host Matt Watson said it was not over-dramatic to say the social consequences could be "life changing".
"I think the value of our lifestyle in New Zealand is at stake here," he said.
The Ministry of Primary Industries is midway through consultation on how to manage and rebuild snapper populations in what is called the Snapper 1 Fishery area, running from the top of East Northland to the Bay of Plenty.
It has three major positions under consideration - keeping the total commercial, customary, and recreational catch at 7550 tonnes, raising the limit by 500 tonnes, or lowering it by 500 tonnes.
One thing is common to all three plans - tighter controls on recreational fishing.
Watson said if he had to take a quota cut, commercial fishers should take the same hit.
"It's madness to be dialling back recreational take and keeping commercial take at the status quo when that's where the damage is occurring.
"Some research says that for every commercial fish that makes it to market, another two have died."
Currently fishers can catch nine snapper a day, measuring 27cm in length. Under one proposal, the daily catch is reduced to just three snapper.
Under another proposal, fishers would still be able to take nine fish a day, but the size of fish would be raised to 35cm - making it harder for many recreational fishers take home any fish because they do not have the resources to go into deeper waters to reach larger snapper.
MPI says it is recreational fishers who are pushing the number of snapper into danger - since 1997 recreational fishers in the area have been allowed to take 2550 tonnes. But on average for the last five years the recreational catch has been well over the limit, estimated at 3365 tonnes a year.
Recreational fishers believe they have been unfairly lumped with the responsibility of rebuilding the snapper stock. Since 1985 they have had four cuts to their bag limits and size. Commercial fishing limits have remained predominantly unchanged since 1986.
"As recreational fishers we have done more than our fair share to rebuild the snapper 1 fishery - it's time the commercial quota owners came to the party," said Kupenga.
"Our argument is, you can fiddle with all of these options, if you are going to address mortality in the dumping. It is a very narrow approach to managing the fishery."
Auckland man Sanjeev Karan goes out fishing every weekend and was outraged by the potential changes to the bag limit.
"You spend so much to get out there with fuel, bait and maintenance of the boat . . . if the limit's cut to three, you start to wonder whether it's worth it."
With the ministry currently considering the changes, Watson said it was time for recreational fishers to make their voices heard by making submissions.
- Sunday Star Times