The Overseas Catch: The state of recreational fisheries management abroad

Dr Randall Bess
19 April, 2017

Unless recreational fisheries management changes, fishers will face a steady decline in daily bag limits, increases in minimum legal sizes, and shorter fishing seasons. The recreational fishing experience will worsen, as will conflicts between the recreational and commercial fishing sectors.

The previous report in this series, released last year, What’s the Catch? The state of recreational fisheries management in New Zealand, showed how maintaining New Zealand’s traditional approach is doomed to failure.

New Zealand faces many of the same challenges of other fishing nations. All nations encounter increasing demand for limited fisheries resources, along with ensuing conflicts between competing fishing sectors. But, some handle these pressures better than others.

With this in mind, our Research Fellow, Dr Randall Bess, went overseas to learn from other nations, both what to do and what to avoid.

Our second report, The Overseas Catch: The state of recreational fisheries management abroad sets out the four overseas fisheries that he visited. Here are some key facts about them:


Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery: Despite a successful stock rebuild, the red snapper fishery is at a crisis point. Tensions between competing fishing sectors far exceed what we have experienced in New Zealand. One source of tension is the commercial sector thriving under a quota-based management system and able to fish year-round, while recreational fishers have just 9 days to fish with a 2-fish bag limit, and facing a less favourable outlook. This fishery exemplifies what can happen when management problems are not addressed across all sectors and left to worsen.

Northern California red abalone fishery: This fishery is the largest recreational abalone fishery in the world. It is also susceptible to adverse natural conditions. Collaborative efforts between The Nature Conservancy, scientists, local divers and government are directed at finding ways to better ensure sustainability, including improved capacity for adaptive management. This includes data collected by local divers and integrating those data into science-based decision making. Their dedication shows how those with recreational interests can take up a stewardship role in the fullest sense.

British Columbia halibut fishery: This fishery exemplifies a novel solution to competition for limited resources, two-way quota transfers. With an experimental licence, recreational fishers and others can acquire quota to catch halibut beyond the limits and times available under the normal recreational licence. However, it is not without controversy. Recreational fishing representatives there object to BC’s quota-based management system full-stop. If recreational quota acquisitions prove successful, the political fight over who gets how much halibut might well get resolved by letting people trade.

Western Australia: The Department of Fisheries has been preparing for increasing pressure on limited fisheries resources. The Department considers that total allowable catch allocations can and should change over time to reflect changes in social values. The Department also has service level agreements with one recreational and one commercial representative organisation. These agreements alter intersectoral dynamics and provide incentives to find workable solutions. It is not surprising that Western Australians have trust and confidence in the way fisheries are managed.


Fish stock rebuilding: What we found in these overseas nations is that, after decades of overfishing, improving fish stock sustainability has been of high priority. Rebuild efforts have included setting high abundance targets, and reductions in the order of 50% in overall catch levels to reach the targets within a decade or so. It is noteworthy, that these levels are often higher, and the timeframes shorter, than many of those in New Zealand.

Integrating recreational fisheries into management processes: There is a concerted focus overseas on integrating recreational fisheries into policies and processes. To cope with the greater complexity that comes from this, our research suggests that institutional arrangements with demonstrated, effective (and accepted) representation for recreational fishers is a critical factor in improving overall management and decision-making. 
The importance of data: Our research shows that success in integrating recreational fisheries into wider fisheries management processes is also dependent on improving data collected on recreational fishing. The research shows various options for improving data collection that may benefit New Zealand’s recent and significant improvements. The benefits would arise largely from increasing the frequency of data collection and including groups of fishers that currently are not well represented in the sample frame. These benefits would be particularly useful for those fisheries where recreational catch exceeds its sector allocation, and reallocation is considered a viable solution.

Effective allocation/reallocation mechanisms: Our research also shows that elsewhere fisheries managers are formalising what is still a stated intention in New Zealand: developing workable mechanisms to allocate fisheries resources and reallocate them over time. Our research suggests there would be benefits from exploring a greater range of allocation options.

Sharing the cost: In general, recreational fishing interests hold the view that their fishing for food and fun should come at no cost, or no more than a nominal cost (in terms of licence or other fees). But fisheries management and fish stock enhancement is not costless. And any increased recreational share of the total catch may require compensating commercial quota holders. A well-integrated system needs to find the right balance.


The next step in our research includes a group of New Zealanders involved in fisheries travelling to Western Australia to learn more about its successes and challenges.

Lessons learned overseas will help formulate policy recommendations in our next report in this series. We need to act soon to preserve future generations’ ability to fish while upholding the secure rights associated with quota holdings and Treaty obligations.

Read more about our Fisheries Project here

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