'Slot rule' for cod annoys, study finds

23:10, Jan 27 2013

A university researcher surveying recreational blue cod fishermen says they "just want rules that make sense and are fair".

Alyssa Thomas, originally from the United States but a Wellington resident for the past eight years, identified a gap in the knowledge around the contentious fishing regulations and is trying to fill it as part of her Victoria University environmental science PhD studies.

She decided on the project because there was not enough research that drew on the experience of Marlborough Sounds fishermen when it came to setting the rules, with the Ministry for Primary Industries relying on statistics- based science research, she said.

"I hope my research will fill in the blanks and show the Government what the fishers think.

"I want to find out why some are following the rules and others are breaking them. Do they think the rules are fair? Do they think they're working?"

Ms Thomas, 32, has been visiting boat ramps and marinas in Picton, Waikawa and Havelock since the start of the year to talk to fishermen, and is running an online survey. So far she's had about 100 responses and is hoping for at least 100 more. "The more the better, as that will carry more weight."

She planned to compile the results after March and return by July to share her findings before presenting them to the ministry, which she hoped would take them seriously.

"We need to take in the human aspect and I don't feel that the ministry has done that. The ministry has done some scientific studies on the size and number of blue cod but nothing has been done from a social science perspective."

The ministry released figures in October compiled by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research during a study in 2010 on blue cod in the Sounds that showed the numbers were bouncing back after a complete ban on blue cod recreational fishing from 2008 to 2010.

One of the rules introduced when the ban was partially lifted in 2011 was a 30-35cm "slot rule"; fish outside that range must be returned to the sea. It is the rule that is breached the most.

Ms Thomas said her results so far showed that the slot rule was the most problematic regulation, with fishermen frustrated and unhappy about the number of big cod being thrown back to an uncertain fate.

"Sure, many fishers know how to handle them well but as they have also pointed out, cod are greedy. They often swallow the hook - no matter what size - and in that case you can't do anything. Evading the shags is another issue the fishers face with the discarded fish."

Many thought the slot rule was doing more harm than good, and had told her that a lot of people from other areas no longer made visits to the Sounds to go fishing because of the rules.

"The fishers are not opposed to having strict regulations. They want to see the cod population maintained so their kids and grandkids can go fishing. They just want rules that make sense to the fishers and are fair to recreational fishers."

The online survey could be done over several sessions, she said, and was confidential. For more information contact her at alyssa.thomas@vuw.ac.nz, or go to the survey at http://vuw.qualtrics .com/SE/?SID=SV_6AuY3AasfpKRmMR