A possible cut to the snapper bag limit in the Hauraki Gulf has incensed New Zealand's oldest recreational angling group, who have labelled potential changes as "outrageous" and "unfair".
Consultation on the changes, which is aimed at boosting ailing snapper stocks in the Hauraki Gulf and the northeast coast of the North Island, was announced by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy at the weekend.
A full consultation process, scheduled to begin in July, will discuss changes to the recreational and commercial limit in the Snapper 1 area.
The current recreational bag limit for the Snapper 1 area is nine snapper over 27cm, per person.
The New Zealand Sport Fishing Council, which represents recreational anglers, is worried new regulations will unfairly punish people "trying to catch a few fish for their families".
New Zealand Sport Fishing Council spokesman Trish Rea said the current state of the fish stock is a result of commercial fishing.
"Inevitably we think those cuts will be applied to recreational, and we think that is totally outrageous, unfair, and not apportioning responsibility where it lies."
Ms Rea said it was important that the Snapper 1 fishery was rebuilt, but there was question of how best that should be achieved.
Although options were yet to be finalised, and could include keeping the status quo, Mr Guy said: "An option of reducing recreational bag limits may be one of the options floated.
"But this could be combined with an increase to the overall recreational tonnage."
Mr Guy said snapper numbers were up 70 per cent over the last 15 to 25 years, but were still only about half the level of the current management target.
At present, the snapper stock in the Snapper 1 area is estimated to be 24 per cent of natural biomass, whereas the designated target was 40 per cent of biomass.
Ms Rea said if commercial fishing companies were smarter about how they caught fish, the need to reduce catch levels would be diminished.
"Our concern is that a lot of juvenile fish are being slaughtered in the process of catching the fish that are being caught at the moment."
Ms Rea singled out trawl nets as being particularly destructive to stocks.
Small snapper and other species were getting caught as by-catch in the nets, she said.
Hamilton resident Joe Dennehy, a veteran angler who writes several fishing columns and organises the New Zealand Softbait Championships, said he did not think recreational fishermen would have a problem with reviewing regulations, provided that the industry make changes as well.
"What I think most recreational anglers would like to see, is if there is to be a cut in the recreational quota there has to be a matching, or greater cut, from the commercial quota."
Mr Dennehy said there would be resistance from commercial and recreational fishermen.
"Having spoken to a lot of recreational anglers, they'd be happy to accept catching less fish, provided those fish weren't then just exported for money," he said.
- Waikato Times