Media Release: New Zealand lagging behind in managing recreational fisheries

Media Release
19 April, 2017

Wellington (19 April 2017): New Zealand’s management of recreational fisheries lags behind other fishing nations and risks our fishing future, according to the latest report from The New Zealand Initiative.

Dr Randall Bess’ second report on fisheries management, The Overseas Catch: The state of recreational fisheries management abroad, shows how other nations have managed conflict between recreational and commercial fishers when fish become scarce, and how they have worked to replenish stocks to improve the fishing experience.

The report focuses on four case studies: the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery, the northern California red abalone fishery, British Columbia’s halibut fishery, and Western Australia’s approach to fisheries management.

“Like in overseas jurisdictions, New Zealand’s recreational fishers have had to contend with ongoing constraints placed on their access to fisheries resources. They point to a steady trend in shrinking bag limits, increasing minimum legal sizes and reducing fishing seasons, which progressively diminishes the fishing experience,” says Dr Bess.

The fundamental flaw in this management approach is highlighted in our first report, What’s the Catch? The state of recreational fisheries management in New Zealand.

“Worse yet, reliance on bag and size limits has not stopped localised depletion of many fish stocks important to recreational fishers. We now face the risk of the type of catastrophic depletion of fish stocks that has too often characterised other nations’ recreational fisheries. This level of depletion has already occurred in the blue cod and scallop fisheries in the Marlborough Sounds and the rock lobster fishery in the Hauraki Gulf.”

While overseas, Dr Bess found that, like New Zealand, there had been a longstanding focus on commercial fisheries. But with the growing number of recreational fishers and improved fish-finding technologies, increasing pressure on fisheries resources have forced fisheries managers to contend with increasing conflicts between competing fishing sectors. While some jurisdictions were able to adapt to these new challenges, others were not as successful.

“The United States’ Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery illustrates what New Zealand’s fishing future could be, if we do not act soon. This fishery required emergency measures that left recreational fishers with just nine days each year to catch snapper and with a two-fish daily bag limit, despite the fishery rebuilding after the total catch level was cut by 45% over a decade ago.”

“By contrast, we are impressed with Western Australia’s ability to gain public support for managing fisheries. It has devised unique arrangements for representation that have altered the relationships between competing fishing sectors.

“The Western Australian government recognises two peak representative bodies, one each for the recreational and commercial sectors. They are paid to undertake certain roles, such as consultation and planning. With strong governance arrangements in place, both sectors have incentives to collaborate, rather than blaming each other for problems and lobbying for their own interests,” says Dr Bess.

Western Australia stands in stark contrast to New Zealand, where recreational fishers are poorly represented and have few opportunities to voice their concerns, and there is a high level of distrust between sectors.

This second report provides useful examples of how other nations have approached problems that are common to managing fisheries. In so doing, it details overseas policies that could be adapted for New Zealand’s unique circumstances, including the need to uphold the secure rights associated with quota holdings and Treaty settlement obligations.

In May, The New Zealand Initiative will lead a ‘fisher exchange’ to Western Australia, with a group of New Zealanders involved in fisheries learning first-hand about its challenges and successes.

“The lessons we learn in Western Australia and elsewhere will be useful in debating the future state we want for New Zealand’s recreational fisheries and the changes in policies and practices needed to get there,” concludes Dr Bess.

The New Zealand Initiative’s recommendations will be set out in our next report in this series, scheduled for release later this year. The Initiative will engage widely on these recommendations before they are finalised and presented to the new government.

The Overseas Catch: The state of recreational fisheries management abroad, is available on our website.


Dr Randall Bess is available for comment. To arrange an interview please contact:

Media contact
Simone White, Communications Officer
The New Zealand Initiative
Phone: +64 4 494 9109
Mobile: +64 21 2937 250

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