Sharing the cost of managing inshore fisheries

Dr Randall Bess
The National Business Review
4 August, 2017

Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders fish each year. Fishing is integral to the Kiwi way of life.

We know fishing provides social, cultural and psychological benefits. It also provides economic benefits but there is much misinformation about these benefits.

Nonetheless, fishing for fun and food remains a low priority for management purposes. In contrast, commercial fishing attracts the bulk of management attention.

Funding differences explain the discrepancy between the management of recreational and commercial fisheries. Quota holders largely fund the management of commercial fisheries through cost recovery. Recreational fishers have generally been unwilling to contribute toward management costs.

Yet the cost of managing competing sectors in inshore fisheries will increase. These costs include improved information on fisheries and each sector’s fishing activities and management trade-offs that address intensifying intersectoral conflicts.

It seems the government is not prepared to invest further in recreational fisheries. Recreational fishers may need to contribute toward some of the management costs, as is common in most other fishing nations.

The New Zealand Initiative visited several overseas jurisdictions last year. In all, recreational fishers must contribute toward the cost of managing recreational fisheries. They include California, Texas, British Columbia and Western Australia.

Licence fees

Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory provide fishing without any fees. But, this may change. The Commonwealth government's Productivity Commission recommends all states and territories adopt recreational licences within three years.

Western Australia has a long history of charging licence fees. All fees go into a special trust account dedicated to managing recreational fisheries. Funds are also added to the account from consolidated revenue appropriations.

The Western Australian government uses these funds for various purposes. Some 15% of licence fees fund Recfishwest to operate as the peak non-government recreational sector representative and main source of coordinated advice to the government.

The government also funds the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council to undertake the same peak body role. Its funding is based on 0.5% of the 5.75% gross value of product collected in fisheries access fees.  

The funds made available to these sector-level representatives, along with strong governance arrangements, have changed intersectoral dynamics for the better.

The lessons learnt in Western Australia can help improve New Zealand’s intersectoral dynamics, which are characterised by high levels of distrust and little in the way of co-operation.

The Initiative puts forward the following recommendations to improve the management of inshore fisheries and to preserve recreational fishing for current fishers and the next generation.

Main recommendations

First, the government and all fishing sectors should work together. They need to show commitment to constructive and effective management of shared fisheries. This is where all sectors have an interest in catching more fish. But they value their share of the catch quite differently.

All fishing sectors can show commitment by agreeing on higher biomass (abundance) targets and the measures needed to meet them. They can also show commitment by agreeing on indicators of core management performance tracked over time.

Second, the historical imbalance in management attention needs addressing. The solution is to integrate recreational fisheries into management policies and processes. Specific recommendations include:

• developing a recreational fisheries policy in the context of shared fisheries,
• improving the information available on recreational fishing, and
• representing all recreational fishing interests with the establishment of a Recfishwest-type institution. The government should recognise it as the peak body or central point of contact and referral for recreational sector issues.

Third, the way the minister allocates a fishery's total catch between fishing sectors should change. Currently, the minister has full discretion on these decisions. This arrangement incentivises the fishing sectors to compete for more favourable allocations. Lobbying and counter-lobby distract effort from finding ways to improve fisheries for all sectors. A switch to secure proportional allocations would incentivise collaboration.

Also, it is important to reallocate a fishery's total catch over time as social values change. This requires a reallocation process based on agreed principles. The process should benefit recreational fishers and compensate commercial fishers. Reallocation could result in them incurring unjustified losses.  

Finally, there are some intriguing ways to fund these recommendations. The first is to use the petrol excise duties paid by recreational boat users. Each year boat users pay tens of millions of dollars in excise duties that fund road-building. But they get little back to maintain their fishing experience.

The government should fund the new recreational representative institution with petrol excise duties. After five years, review the role of the institution and its funding. Alternative funding includes:

• contributions by fishers and non-fishers who support the new representative institution; or
• registration fees for recreational boats or trailers.

Next step

Our recently released report, The Future Catch, Preserving recreational fisheries for the next generation, sets out the above recommendations for consultation. Its purpose is to elicit public debate. It is timely to debate the future of recreational fisheries and any necessary changes in policies and practices.

During August and September, the Initiative will hold consultation meetings throughout the country. After this consultation, the recommendations will be finalised and presented to the new government by the end of the year.

It is important the final recommendations are met with political will. It will take some tough decisions to preserve recreational fisheries for the next generation while upholding the secure rights associated with quota holdings and Treaty obligations.

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