Anglers on attack over snapper cutbacks

IN FAVOUR: Skipper Phillip Clow says changes in the Snapper 1 fishery will increase transparency among the commercial fleet.
IN FAVOUR: Skipper Phillip Clow says changes in the Snapper 1 fishery will increase transparency among the commercial fleet.

The Waikato Times revisits people who made headlines in the past. Today, Harry Pearl looks at new snapper catch limits. 

Anglers are still simmering six months after contentious changes to fishing rules in New Zealand's most prized snapper fishery - and some are warning it could come back to bite the Government in the polls.

On Tuesday, new bag and size limits were introduced for recreational anglers in the Hauraki Gulf, Bay of Plenty and on Northland's east coast.

Daily limits were cut from nine fish per person to seven, and the minimum legal size was increased from 27cm to 30cm.

The changes, which were announced in September last year, are part of a package aimed at rebuilding ailing stocks in the Snapper 1 area.

But many recreational anglers are still annoyed, and the measures have been labelled insufficient to improve stocks by an environmental group.

Commercial fishermen, who missed out on a portion of the total catch increase, feel put out, too.

Bob Gutsell, president of the Waikato Sport Fishing Club, said the Government's decision was still a topic of discussion among recreational anglers, and there was angst among some.

"I think it is an election issue, there's no doubt about it."

He said many recreational anglers were not happy about recent changes to catch limits in the CRA 2 fishery, which extends from the Hauraki Gulf to the Bay of Plenty, either.

"People will vote on how they perceive the Government is managing these resources."

Adam El-Agez, campaign co-ordinator at advocacy group LegaSea, said for swing voters who fished, management of New Zealand's fisheries could be a decider on how they voted.

"One million people in New Zealand fish annually and there is bound to be a large number of those people who place high importance on how their fishery is managed."

El-Agez said LegaSea was planning its "biggest ever" political campaign in the lead-up to the election.

"We're not going to tell people who to vote for, but we want to give people the information in a clear and concise manner and cut through the weasel speak."

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) last week said the changes were part of a "long-term plan" to improve New Zealand's most valuable inshore finfish fishery.

But Raewyn Peart, policy director at the Environmental Defence Society, said the ministry's decision to increase the total allowable catch would not improve stocks.

Following intense pressure from the recreational sector, the Government announced it would increase the total allowable catch from 7550 tonnes a year to 8050 in the Snapper 1 area.

The extra 500 tonnes was given entirely to the recreational sector.

"If we want to continue to fish abundant stocks of snapper," Peart said, "We've got to reduce our take now for a much greater benefit in the future."

In its discussion document last year MPI estimated the stock as being between 19 per cent and 24 per cent of pre-fished biomass.

A target of 40 per cent was set, but no with firm time-frame to reach it.

Peart said current measures were nowhere near enough to rebuild the stock to that level.

El-Agez believed the changes would make little difference to the health of the SNA 1 fishery either.

Instead, the changes would hit anglers doing the least damage to the fishery the hardest.

"It's business as usual for the commercial fishing sector," he said.

"They're going to go out there and use bulk, indiscriminate methods to extract fish 25cm and over, and in the meantime they will be legally killing hundreds of thousands of undersized fish."

However, a range of new requirements were introduced to improve the monitoring of the commercial fishing sector.

It is hoped the measures will stamp out illegal dumping and find the true scale of fish-related mortality.

Phillip Clow, president of the Whitianga and Coromandel Peninsula Commercial Fishermen's Association, said the measures would increase transparency among the commercial fleet. New requirements to report all catch under the commercial legal size (25cm) had been operating about four weeks, he said.

Further measures such as the introduction of camera or observer coverage on boats and electronic vessel monitoring systems will be phased in.

Clow, who operates a danish seiner, said most commercial skippers were OK with the changes. despite the intrusion of on-board cameras.

"But if you want to remain fishing, that sort of thing has got to happen," he said.

Although he said the Government's decision not to increase the commercial catch probably wasn't fair, he said all fisherman had to work towards rebuilding the Snapper 1 fishery.

"When it's there, then you can put your hand up for a bit more of the pie."