The catch

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.

Boating NZ - - Contents -

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...”


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.


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.


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

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