Do we need to review the daily recreational fish and shellfish limits?

Recreational fishing is a hobby of many kiwis through out the country, and threats to the sport or new rules always stir emotion and lead to heated debates, as can be seen with the new snapper proposals. As a keen fisherman myself I appreciate how important it is to be able to go out and catch a feed of fish for the family or friends.

However due to increasing population and the increased popularity of fishing in New Zealand, there is more and more pressure put on the fish and shellfish populations than ever before. Is it time for a change to the numbers of fish and shellfish which can be taken per person per day in order to help maintain healthy fish stocks? It is easy to blame commercial fisherman for the state of the fish stocks and say they are the ones that need new lower catch limits, but it is time for the recreational fisherman to play their part more than ever in preserving the fisheries resource. I am not saying that there does not need to be change in the commercial rules, limits and ways they catch there fish, but the blame can’t solely be put on the commercial industry for the current state of our fish stocks. To highlight this I have outlined below some examples related to the current catch limit per person per day as stated by the Ministry of Fisheries.

The exact amount of fish taken by recreational fishermen every year is not known as there is no one to record how many fish are caught by every fisherman in the country. There are surveys carried out at certain ports/slipways around the country by MPI personal to gain a small insight into recreational catch but this does not give an exact amount of the fish caught across NZ by any means. This therefore makes it hard to put a figure on the amount of fish removed by the recreational sector and therefore only estimates can be made.

To put it in perspective how can it be justified that you can catch 30 Blue cod a day per person in the Otago region and 20 a day in the Southland region (http://www.fish.govt.nz/en-nz/Recreational/default.htm).  If you do some basic maths, with 5 people in a boat all wanting to catch their limit then that’s 150 blue cod for the one day’s fishing in the Otago region, or 100 cod in the Southland region. (http://www.fish.govt.nz/en-nz/Recreational/default.htm) So if the same group of people are on a fishing trip for a number of days, you can easily see how a lot of fish can be removed rapidly from one area. People may now be saying who would actually catch that many fish each day, and a lot of people wouldn’t take their limit, but it is within their right under the current regulations to legally take this many cod (for example). This highlights why the recreational limits need to be lowered for some species as there are still a large number of people (and I know some who think like this) which want to go out there and fish to catch their limit. This isn’t just a problem in the Southland region but across the country. The limits change for species across the country but they are still far too high for some species in some regions. For all the limits you can look up the Ministry of fisheries website. And these limits are also used by charter boats throughout the country. Some of those boats can take out larger parties of up to 10 people, I won’t do the maths for that, but you can get the idea. Maybe it is time there where seperate rules for charter boats as well to take the strain of recreational anglers?

This problem is not just limited to fish species but also shellfish as well. An obvious example is paua, which has a daily allowable catch limit of 10 per person (http://www.fish.govt.nz/en-nz/Recreational/default.htm). It is therefore not hard to see how this can easily lead to a rapid decline of paua around the coast especially in easily accessible places. This problem is compounded by the estimated 6 to 7 years before a paua reaches the legal size of 125mm (Schiel 1993), meaning that it will take a long time for paua numbers to increase in an areas which have been severely depleted due to high catch limits and fishing pressure. Over the past 10 years I have noticed a large decline of paua in the places I go to gather them. It is now a lot harder to find paua which are over a legal size, and we are only trying to get 5 paua for 5 of us (not the 50 we could be entitled to each day with 5 of us free diving). These are only observations from a few places I go around the Southland and Otago region where there is lower fishing pressure due to smaller population numbers. In areas where there is a larger population the decrease in paua is even greater.

So in conclusion I think it is time that we look at reviewing some of our recreational catch limits for certain species. However if this happens there also needs to be a corresponding change in the way fish are caught and the numbers caught by commcercial fishermen in the same area. It can start with the recreational fishermen themselves only taking what they need for a meal. But things need to be changed at the top with the Ministry of fisheries changing the current limits. Pressure needs to be put on the Minister of fisheries by fishermen and fishing clubs throughout the country to help preserve a sport loved by thousands for future generations.

If you have any views or thoughts on this subject then feel free to email us at sustainableoceansociety@gmail.com

At Sustainable Oceans Society we are well aware that we also need to address the methods and quantities of fish and shellfish being taken by the commercial sector, as this has a large impact on our fishing resources as well. However this issue and the problem of poaching and the selling of fish and shellfish on the black market will be covered in other blog articles or with projects run through SOS.

Please send us your views on recreational catch limits in New Zealand, and if you have the time it would be great if you could fill in our Fisheries survey. To send us your views and any suggestions on our recreational fishery email them to:sustainableoceansociety@gmail.com

Sam