Hoki fishery rebuilt, quota to rise, says minister

Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley has announced that the western hoki stock has recovered from depletion – and hinted that the Total Allowable Commercial Catch will be increased.

Mr Heatley said the improvement in numbers resulted from strong fisheries management practices and "decisive joint ministry and industry action", a reference to the slashing of the hoki quota from 250,000 tonnes in 1997-98 to 90,000 tonnes in 2007-08. It has since been lifted to 120,000 tonnes.

He said the Ministry of Fisheries' latest assessment report was "great news for the fishery and industry".

"Following a period which saw a limited number of young fish entering the fishery, resulting in depleted stocks between 2003 and 2006, the ministry and industry made large reductions in catch. It's a move that has now paid off with the ministry able to declare this stock rebuilt."

This "may result in a reconsideration of total allowable catches later this year", Mr Heatley said.

Hoki is New Zealand's most valuable finfish export – $172 million in 2010 – and is the mainstay of Nelson-based Sealord Group.

With the reduction in catch, Sealord has invested heavily in adding value to the hoki it catches. By mid-September it will have spent $13.5m 0on upgrading its Vickerman St processing plant over two years.

It has also just taken delivery of a large freezer-trawler, the Ocean Dawn, chartered for three years to replace the smaller Independent 1.

General manager of harvest operations Colin Williams said this stemmed from the group's confidence in the sustainability of the hoki fishery, and signals that the TACC is likely to go up.

Sealord holds 30 per cent of the hoki quota and will be allocated this percentage of any TACC increase.

The hoki season is under way, and usually runs until mid-September. The fish are caught off the West Coast and in Cook Strait when they aggregate to spawn. They are also caught in other areas outside the spawning season.

Mr Heatley has also paid tribute to Ministry of Fisheries chief scientist Pamela Mace and a team of 20 international fisheries and marine scientists who have just won the 2011 Sustainability Science Award from the Ecological Society of America for their report Rebuilding Global Fisheries.

Dr Mace co-authored the report, which examines a number of global fisheries and analyses efforts to restore over-exploited marine systems.

She said that while the report's findings weren't positive for all global fisheries, New Zealand and Alaska received the highest rankings for sustainable fisheries management.

"The research found that New Zealand is an area where fish stocks have generally not been overfished and are effectively managed," she said.

Mr Heatley said it was a significant report that covered the spectrum of fisheries and conservation perspectives. "It was the resulting consensual view that impressed the judges," he said.

The ESA Sustainability Science Award is made annually to the authors of the peer reviewed paper published in the past five years that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.