Hauraki Gulf and Snapper debate: Why we are better working together than in separate ‘paddocks’ - 30 October 2015

Sanford Limited, the publicly listed fishing company, recently announced that it is prepared to stop all commercial fishing in the Hauraki Gulf if everyone who ‘throws a line in’ to the country’s most popular fishery records and reports what they are catching.  The suggestion was made by Sanford chief executive Volker Kuntzsch in a speech to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Seminar in late October.  Peter Douglas, Te Ohu Kaimoana chief executive, and Carl Carrington, Aotearoa Fisheries Limited chief executive, explain why they do not support this approach.

There has immediately been suggestions that this means all commercial fishing moves out of the Hauraki Gulf.  One of the conundrums that fisheries management must address is that individuals must be incentivised to make the best decisions for themselves but management must deal with the cumulative consequences of that.  Each commercial firm must be free to make decisions that work for it but cannot require others to adopt an approach that does not fit for them.

For Maori, withdrawing commercial fishing from the Gulf is not consistent with sound fisheries management and sustainability goals.  Just as important, such a move fundamentally undermines Māori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi and the 1992 Deed of Settlement. 

As has been stated by the New Zealand courts, iwi would hardly “have agreed with the Settlement only to have it transferred to Auckland boatmen.”

The fact is that “spatial separation” (the removal of one sector of fishing in favour of another in an area) will not achieve sustainable snapper stock levels in the Hauraki Gulf.  For commercial fishers and firms, it means either catching fish elsewhere. It generally means taking boats further out to sea in the hope we can catch the same amount of snapper somewhere else and which puts greater pressure on fish populations in those places. (The alternative is that the commercial fishers take a cut in commercial catch.)

The first scenario adds higher fuel costs and increases the costs for time and wages, and as a consequence the price of fish rises for the local consumer; the second means firms need to retrench and reducing employment as well as meaning local consumers being frustrated in their purchase choices and buying more imported fish that are not managed in a sustainable manner.

We think the ability to enjoy nature’s bounty and catch fish from our seas is something everyone should be able to enjoy – including the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders who don’t have access to or own boats.  But enjoying and exercising one’s access to fishing comes with responsibilities.  All users need to work collaboratively to ensure the longevity of this shared resource.  It is everyone’s responsibility to manage the fishery sustainably.  It’s how we work together that counts.

A key sticking point affecting us all from making even greater progress in this area is that without more accurate measurement of what is caught, where it is caught, when and by whom, you can’t possibly hope to put in place effective management.  . 

That means we (including the Government) need to significantly improve measuring / reporting recreational catch (including charter reporting), improve the reporting of customary catch, as well as the additional measures being undertaken for commercial catch.  

MPI already has surveys in place to measure non-commercial catch and has agreed to record charter catch, which is a step in the right direction.  

Adoption of suitable low cost technology could however provide real-time data and eliminate redundant paperwork for the charter and commercial fleets – these should be embraced now.  We support additional measures and investment that will improve the collection of robust data to further improve the sustainability of our shared resource.

Iwi have sustainably fished the Hauraki Gulf for a thousand years, and rightfully intend to do so for another thousand years.  They have the full range of harvest interests in the Gulf – non-commercial (both individual and communal) and commercial. 

As well as recognising the need to achieve a suitable balance among these harvesters, there is the over-arching compelling need to ensure sustainability of the fisheries and wider ecosystems they are part of.  This core ethic of kaitiakitanga is central to iwi and Māori involvement in the Gulf and beyond.  In keeping with their long-term involvement in fisheries, iwi and their agents – AFL and Te Ohu Kaimoana – take the long-term perspective on harvest levels and all aspects of management, championing innovation in fisheries management and encouraging all to take responsibility for wider impacts.

Aotearoa Fisheries and Te Ohu Kaimoana have an important role to play.  Iwi have always held a key role in the sustainability of a resource that should be available for everyone to enjoy for generations to come.  In addition to personal responsibility, iwi fishing quota rises and falls on the tide of sustainability.  This was a key characteristic that lead to Māori accepting the quota management system as part of the Fisheries Settlement. 

Carl noted “I’m a recreational fisher myself, and personally and professionally I’m happy to work with industry, recreational fishers, our shareholders and MPI to come up with some real solutions to ensure the sustainability of our fish stocks into the future.  After all, it’s to all of our benefit”.