Disputed blue cod rules stand

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 05/09/2012

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It will be two more years before the contentious Marlborough Sounds blue cod regulations are reviewed, a Ministry of Primary Industries spokesman said today.

Fears about the cod population led to the entire Sounds east of French Pass being closed to blue cod fishing from 2008 until last year, when it reopened with strict new rules and an annual 3 -month closure to protect the peak spawning period.

Most controversial is a 30-35 centimetre "slot" for taking fish, meaning that all bigger and smaller cod have to be returned to the sea. Many recreational fishermen argue this causes high mortality in the larger fish and means they have to catch many fish to get "keepers".

The latest closure began on September 1. Earlier this year Fisheries Minister David Carter ruled out changes to the rules until 2013.

But today the ministry spokesman said the blue cod management plan would be reviewed in 2014-15.

"This will allow sufficient time to pass for changes in blue cod abundance and population structure to become detectable and for the effectiveness of the new regulations to be assessed," he said.

The ministry was aware that recreational fishers were concerned about the "slot" size limit, especially the potential mortality of the large blue cod returned to the sea.

"Science information tells us that blue cod are robust and can be returned to the water successfully. However, it is important that recreational fishers exercise care when handling the fish."

Fishery officers policing the rules this year had found a compliance rate of around 77 per cent, with keeping cod larger than 35cm and filleting cod at sea the main offences.

The spokesman said most fishers were accepting of the rules.

"In the ministry's experience fishers in the Sounds are no different to fishers elsewhere in the country. Most fishers are aware of the various regulations relating to fish size and daily bag limits but some choose to flaunt them."

Patrols would be carried out during the closed season, he said.

Nelson Blue Cod Management Group representative Martyn Barlow said the consultative group was due to meet with Ministry of Primary Industries representatives in November.

However, he understood a briefing paper the group put together for Mr Carter last November had still not been presented to the minister by July.

"The silence is quite deafening from the ministry on a number of fronts. The 2010 Niwa survey data has still not been released. It's quite bizarre."

Mr Barlow said the group still advocated the abandonment of the "slot" and a return to a single size limit across the recreational and commercial sectors. Currently commercial fishermen are exempted from the slot.

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"People on recreational boats are talking of having to catch 20 or 30 fish to get two keepers. Charter boat operators are catching hundreds of fish and returning them. The slot fishery is not working."

There was evidence that many bigger fish had come into the Sounds since 2008 "but we want that confirmed from the survey data".

He also felt the regulations as a whole were "a dog's breakfast", Mr Barlow said.

DO'S AND DON'TS

The blue cod fishery in the Marlborough Sounds closed on September 1 and will reopen on December 20. The closure is to protect the peak spawning season. It was first imposed in 2008 and was planned to be a four-year moratorium to allow fish stocks to build up, but was lifted in April 2011 before closing again for the spawning peak. The closed area covers all of Pelorus and Queen Charlotte sounds and the eastern side of D'Urville Island, defined as the Marlborough Sounds Area. The western side of D'Urville Island from French Pass and the mainland coastline from French Pass west to Nelson and beyond remains open to blue cod fishing and has a separate set of regulations. When the season is open, the catch limit is two fish per day between 30 and 35 centimetres – New Zealand's first official "slot fishery". There are tight restrictions on accumulating catch over more than one day and on transporting cod from one area to the other. No filleted cod may be landed in either area. A map of the MSA closure and more information about fishing rules can be found at www.fish.govt.nz. The Ministry for Primary Industries asks that any suspicious fishing activity be reported to 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224).

- The Nelson Mail

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