Bite may have to be put on fishers

Dr Randall Bess
New Zealand Herald
4 January, 2018

Recreational fishing in New Zealand’s marine waters is one of the few remaining free-of-charge public goods available to everyone. However, managing fisheries is not costless.

Management costs will inevitably be an important consideration for the new Minister of Fisheries, Hon Stuart Nash, as he considers how best to improve inshore fisheries.

The costs of managing these fisheries are partly borne by the commercial fishing sector through cost-recovery levies; the remaining costs of management and enforcing rules are borne by taxpayers, though most do not fish.

New Zealand’s population is near 4.8 million. The best estimate is that around 600,000, or 12 percent of the population, fish each year. Many of the remaining 88 percent rely on commercial fishers to supply seafood in supermarkets and restaurants.

Should those who do not fish subsidise the management costs for recreational fisheries, especially if fishers are not prepared to contribute toward those costs?

In many other countries, fishers contribute towards fisheries management costs by paying fishing license fees. These fees fund fisher-related services and facilities. And, the information gained through licencing helps inform management decisions. Licenses generate higher fees from non-residents, including tourists, than from residents.  

This is similar to trout fishing here, which is managed by Fish & Game New Zealand. There are nine licences for residents or non-residents. To fish for a full season, a non-resident pays $165 compared to $127 for a resident.

The New Zealand Sport Fishing Council represents around 32,000 fishers, or five percent of total marine fishers. The Council strongly objects to fishing licenses. This is ironic given the Council has mandatory fees for its affiliated fishing club members who also pay fees to their clubs.  

The irony is heightened when considering the potential benefits arising from a license fee of say $20, which is a small fraction of the cost of fishing each year. Exemptions could easily be made for those who cannot afford the fee.

The Sport Fishing Council objects to any suggestion that recreational fishers are not already pulling their (financial) weight due to the taxes they pay on boats, fishing gear, fuel, etc. But, the same can be said about those involved in other sports and hobbies.

The Sport Fishing Council claims recreational fishers pay $20 in tax for each kilogram of fish caught. This seems excessive. And, it is difficult to assess if based on the Council’s 2016 report that estimates the economic contribution of recreational fishers.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has noted this report’s shortcomings, including explanations of its methods and assumptions. Accordingly, any conclusions drawn from it should be treated with caution.   

The Sport Fishing Council also objects to a peak body to represent recreational fishing interests, despite the success of Recfishwest representing all 740,000 fishers in Western Australia. Recfishwest’s purpose is to advocate for the social, cultural and health benefits of fishing, along with fishers taking up a stewardship role for the environment.

Recfishwest works with the Minister of Fisheries, Department of Fisheries and its commercial counterpart, the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council, to ensure recreational and commercial fishers have equitable allocations of fisheries resources.

Recfishwest is funded by a portion of license fees. These fees fund engagement with recreational fishers and involvement in all policies that have an effect on recreational fishing. The Department uses the remaining fees to fund management, including over 20 research and development projects to date aligned with recreational sector priorities. 

Recfishwest’s extensive track record contradicts the Sport Fishing Council’s claim that Recfishwest is prevented from lobbying and constrained in its ability to change policy, simply because it receives funding from license fees.     

New Zealand would benefit by establishing a well-funded Recfishwest-type peak body to represent recreational fishing interests. And, there are various options to fund it.

For example, some of the petrol excise tax that boat-based fishers already pay is a viable option.  Petrol taxes are earmarked for roadbuilding, but when petrol is used on boats the tax should also be used to benefit the recreational fishing sector. 

Other funding options include fishing licenses, voluntary contributions and boat or trailer registration, if the petrol tax option proves unworkable or insufficient.

In the latest issue of Seafood New Zealand, Minister Nash expressed his interest in championing a representative peak body. He stated, “A sector is always much more effective if there is one body speaking on behalf of that sector.” 

The Minister’s interest in a peak body is a step in the right direction. We should look forward to hearing his preferred funding option. 

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