If the latest report from the independent think-tank, The New Zealand Initiative, is heeded, recreational fishers may soon find themselves paying for the privilege of catching a feed.
Licenced to fish BY JOHN EICHELSHEIM
n the report, The Future Catch – Preserving Recreational Fisheries for the Next Generation, recreational fishers are urged to embrace a licencing fee to protect the pastime they love.
The author, Dr Randall Bess, is a research fellow for The New Zealand Initiative, responsible for a series of fisheries management research papers examining fisheries management practices in New Zealand and overseas.
The licencing issue has been knocking around for as long as I’ve been writing about recreational fishing, probably longer. During my 30 years in marine magazines, many, many thousands of words have been written debating the rights and wrongs of sea fishing licences.
It’s an argument that has raged in the country’s homes, pubs, boating and fishing clubs, within families and between fishing mates, and among commercial fishers embittered by what they see as rules for some but not for others.
Most recreational fishers have been strongly opposed to any form of licencing, a stance that representative bodies such as the NZ Angling and Casting Association, New Zealand Sport Fishing Council and advocacy group Legasea steadfastly maintain. The New Zealand public, with a long tradition of fishing for food and fun, almost certainly still feels that way.
But the times are a-changing, says the New Zealand Initiative. New Zealand’s population has doubled in a generation and continues to grow at pace. There are now far more New Zealanders availing themselves of the ocean’s shrinking bounty and access to recreational fishing has never been easier, thanks to improved fishing tackle, much more widely disseminated fishing knowledge and an explosion in the number of recreational vessels. Tourism is booming as well.
Of course, commercial fishing hasn’t stood still either, having adopted industrial fishing methods and dazzling new technologies in the quest to catch more fish. Something must give, says Bess in his report. “New Zealand faces the same challenges as other fishing nations as demand increases for limited fisheries resources. Improving our own fisheries management will be easier if we learn from the successes and failures of other jurisdictions,” he writes.
Bess investigated management practices for stressed or commercially endangered shared fisheries in several overseas jurisdictions, including Texas and Northern California, USA, British Columbia, Canada, and Western Australia. He also led a group of interested New Zealand fisheries stakeholders, including non-commercial fishers, to Western Australia to learn from that state’s collaborative management practices.
Many of New Zealand’s commercial fisheries are evidently well-managed, receiving international recognition for sustainability. But, says the report, most of these are offshore fisheries for species such as orange roughy, ling and hoki. They don’t include ‘shared’ fisheries for species valued by recreational fishers, like snapper, kahawai, kingfish and blue cod, which are largely found closer inshore.
Commercial quota holders have offshore fishing all to themselves, so it’s in their interest to manage these fisheries for their own benefit, changing their behaviour where necessary
Improving the overall management of shared fisheries will require changes for both commercial and recreational fishers.
to ensure sustainable fishing. But in shared fisheries the incentives for quota holders to change their behaviour “are reduced when much of the benefit is enjoyed by recreational fishers”.
Quota holders sometimes “trade off the certainty of the present against the uncertainty of the future; taking extra catch benefits (for example, through misreporting and discarding) in the short term that causes the long-term consequences to be shared among all quota holders,” including Maori and recreational fishers.
Commercial fishing rights have evolved over many decades and are welldefined, as are the ways in which commercial fishing is managed, argues Bess. But the evolution of non-commercial fishing rights and fishing management has been
“shorter, slower and far less well-documented” and must be sped up as the demand for recreational fishing grows, says the report. All sectors share the same goals of greater fish stock abundance, fair and equitable TAC (Total Allowable Catch) allocations and a better fishing experience, writes Bess. “The New Zealand Initiative’s fisheries project aims to elicit constructive debate about these shared goals...”
IMPROVING OVERALL FISHERIES MANAGEMENT
The report argues improving the overall management of shared fisheries will require changes for both commercial and recreational fishers.
For rec. fishers, this could mean no more releasing ‘undersized’ fish, for instance, which may in fact hinder stock rebuilding due to excessive fish mortality. The report suggests it may be better for recreational fishers to keep every fish they catch until the daily limit is reached, regardless of size.
In each of the overseas fisheries Bess investigated, jurisdictions had taken varying approaches to lift vulnerable fisheries back into sustainability. All of these jurisdictions require recreational fishing licences for residents and licences with higher fees for non-residents, in much the same way freshwater fishing licences are managed in New Zealand.
Of the examples, Bess felt Western Australia’s management of its recreational fisheries was the most useful model for a way forward in New Zealand.
Unlike in Western Australia, in New Zealand the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) doesn’t fund any initiatives that directly benefit recreational fishing, apart from a team of two staff tasked to engage with the recreational fishing sector.
Commercial fishers, on the other hand, in part directly fund fisheries management, including on behalf of recreational fishers, through the MPI’S cost recovery levies, supplemented by tax payers, many of whom don’t fish.
LICENCING IN NEW ZEALAND
Probably the most contentious issue raised by this report is licencing. The recreational right to fish in New Zealand’s marine environment is one of the few remaining free-of-charge public goods available to everyone.
But as the report points out, because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s not without cost. Licencing, in line with a userpays philosophy, is one way – the report argues the best way – to partially fund fisheries management for the benefit of recreational fishers.
The report states “the sharp discrepancy between the management of recreational and commercial fisheries is driven by funding differences. The management of commercial fisheries is largely funded on a cost-recovery basis by quota holders.”
By introducing a licence system, and then utilising the funds generated for fisheries management, the recreational sector will be in a much better position, says Bess.
The report has several funding recommendations for managing recreational fishing, including collecting excise duty on petrol used in boats, which would then be utilised to benefit all boat users, including recreational fishers.
Other options include individual contributions (licence fees) similar to those already paid to access our freshwater game fisheries (trout and salmon). The fees suggested are relatively modest ($10 per year, $20 for tourists) and may be adjusted or discarded altogether if the excise option proves workable.
As part of the discussion about individual contributions, there’s a whole lot more around the ability to gift funds.
The third licencing option from the Initiative calls for separate boat and land-based licences, which includes a registration system licencing the boat, not the individual fisher. The report is suggesting a fee of $20, but the mechanism for registering and collecting fees (as it is for the other recommendations) is complex.
This proposal seems to advocate selective boat licencing (power boats), something the Kiwi boating public has resisted for many years. It doesn’t include people who fish from nonpowered vessels such as yachts and kayaks.
CAUSING A FLAP
Whether you agree with this report’s findings and recommendations or not, the report is out in the public domain. It has already caused quite a flap amongst recreational fishers – the licencing debate has been well and truly re-opened.
And while I am somewhat suspicious of the motives behind this report (and its funding…), it does address some real issues: namely a growing population placing increased pressure on shared resources; the inability of recreational fishing interests to take a meaningful part in fisheries management due to lack of funding; and the way the commercial fishing industry has hijacked MPI fisheries management.
In an election year, it will be interesting to see if any of the parties pick this up and run with it. BNZ