Questions and answers on fisheries consultation

Fisheries New Zealand is consulting on proposals to reshape, improve, and modernise the management of New Zealand’s fisheries to enhance sustainability and improve incentives for good fishing practice by commercial fishers. Find answers to some questions you might ask about the consultation.

Why aren't you consulting on on-board cameras now?

  • We first want to consider and agree on a number of policy settings that underpin commercial fishing. Feedback from this consultation will help inform conversations on how to improve our monitoring and verification capabilities for commercial fishers, in particular the use of on-board cameras. Once we have the policy settings decided, we will consider the use of on-board cameras on commercial vessels. Any options for on-board cameras would be publically consulted on at a later period.

What is the overall goal of this programme?

  • Our vision is to have abundant and sustainable fisheries, thriving communities and a healthy marine environment for the benefit of all New Zealanders. To achieve this, we consider that changes to our fisheries management system are required to improve how it works now and into the future.
  • The recent launch of Fisheries New Zealand was the first step in a broad programme of work. This step was about providing a renewed focus on working collaboratively with all stakeholders to enable innovation – from how we manage our fisheries to how we help deliver value across the supply chain, from catching fish to the consumer's plate.
  • This consultation process is the second step in this programme of work. This step will give us information to improve the performance of our fisheries management system, and provide a platform to help address the future challenges and opportunities that our fisheries face.

Why are you focusing on commercial fisheries?

  • We are initially focusing on commercial fishers because they represent a very high proportion of the catch in most fisheries. These proposals also leverage off the introduction of electronic catch and position reporting for commercial fishers that will give us better and more timely information.
  • For fisheries significant to customary and recreational fishers, we are engaging with representatives and the general public with an issues-based approach, such as the development of a national blue cod strategy and the Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari Marine Spatial Plan for the Hauraki Gulf.

Why are you proposing to change the rules for landing and return of fish to the sea?

  • We're looking to simplify the rules around what fish must be landed and what can be returned to the sea in commercial fisheries, and ensure that these rules incentivise good fishing practice.
  • In some parts, the commercial fishing rules are unclear, hard to understand and can be open to interpretation. This can contribute to catches not being accurately reported or accounted for. For example, some commonly caught fish have minimum legal sizes while others do not, and some fish can be legally returned to the sea regardless of size. For commercially caught fish which do have a minimum legal size, all undersize fish are currently required to be returned to the sea, alive or dead.
  • The current rules also provide few incentives for fishers to avoid catching small or low-value fish, because many fish can be legally returned to the sea. As a result, the rules do not effectively incentivise good fishing practice or innovation in more selective fishing methods and practices.

What's the problem with being able to return a large range of fish to the sea?

  • Many of these fish may not be currently reported, so the number of fish being returned to the sea is difficult to quantify. This information is an important factor when making fisheries management decisions, such as setting catch limits for a fish stock. We need reliable and more complete information on catches to support better fisheries management decision making processes.
  • The return of unwanted fish (legally or illegally) is also seen as a wastage of the resource and lost economic value.

Why are you proposing the changes to these rules now?

  • With the continued introduction of electronic catch and position reporting this year, commercial fishers will be required to report all quota management system (QMS) fish stocks caught, regardless of their fate. As a result, we need commercial fishing rules that are clear and simple to follow.
  • Simplifying these rules would help clarify reporting requirements and improve fisheries compliance processes.

Why are you proposing an option to tighten the fishing rules for commercial fishers?

  • The option to tighten the fishing rules for the landing and return to sea of fish proposes removing commercial minimum legal sizes for finfish. This would require commercial fishers to land and report all QMS finfish caught.
  • By removing minimum legal sizes for finfish, and landing and reporting all fish, we could better account for all fish that are caught, as well as those fish caught that would have otherwise not survived after being returned to the sea under the current rules.
  • This approach would help incentivise fishers to innovate and move to more selective fishing practices in order to catch only the fish they want, and find ways to avoid catching the smaller or economically low-value fish.

What possible risks are there to removing commercial minimum legal sizes for finfish?

  • While a commercial catch allowance would still limit the amount of fish caught and landed, there is a risk that removing minimum legal sizes for finfish could result in more small fish ending up in the market place because they cannot be legally returned to the sea.
  • We acknowledge that this could result in markets developing for undersize fish and could lead to them being deliberately targeted. If this arose, we would look at other management tools to discourage any targeting of undersized fish.

If commercial minimum legal sizes were removed, what impact would it have on commercial fishers?

  • There are likely to be short-term costs for some fishers if we removed commercial minimum legal sizes because this would limit the number of fish that can be legally returned to sea (e.g. a fisher using a bottom-trawl in inshore waters where there is a wide mix of species, some of which previously had a minimum legal size).  This means fishers would have to land all fish caught, including small fish, and fish with low market value.
  • Fishers would have to ensure they could obtain enough annual catch entitlement (ACE) to cover all QMS species caught, or be required to pay a deemed value (penalty payment) for fish landed in excess of their ACE. It may also mean the ACE market will be more volatile at first.
  • The expectation is that these short-term costs would be offset in the long-term by improved sustainability and integrity in our fisheries management system; adding value to both the catches and the quota of our fish stocks.

How could commercial fishers avoid catching these small or unwanted fish?

  • These proposals aim to ensure that all QMS fish that are caught are accounted for. These proposals also aim to incentivise and enable innovation in the commercial fishing industry and their fishing practices.
  • We know that, given the right incentives, fishers can reduce the number of small or unwanted fish they catch by changing their fishing, such as modifying fishing gear setup, fishing at different times, or in different places.

Why are you not proposing changes to minimum legal sizes for recreational fishers? 

  • At this stage, there are no plans to consider changing minimum legal sizes for recreational fishers, who often use fishing methods that have a relatively low impact on the marine environment and are often able to return undersized fish to the sea unharmed. While the survivability of released fish will depend on the method used to catch the fish, the depth at which they are caught and how they are handled before release, it also means recreational fishers have a choice over which fish to take home and which to return to the sea.
  • We consider that a recreational minimum legal size limit, in combination with a daily bag limit, is the most effective way to control a catch allowance for recreational fishers that is sustainable.

Why are you proposing an option to increase flexibility in the return of fish to the sea?

  • The option of increasing flexibility in the return to the sea of commercially caught fish would allow for more fish to be legally returned to the sea and encourage better reporting of all fish caught.
  • This approach would provide commercial fishers with the opportunity to increase the overall landed value of their catch by allowing the return to sea of some degraded, unwanted or low-value fish, and not having to count them against quota. This would maximise the catch value as fishers would be keeping the more lucrative fish.
  • This would require flexibility in both the minimum legal sizes and allowances for the legal return of QMS fish to the sea.
  • However, it is likely that this approach would require significant and comprehensive monitoring and verification systems to ensure that these commercial fishing activities do not breach our commercial fisheries regulations that allow the returning of fish to the sea.

Why do you want to introduce new offences and penalties?

  • Fisheries offending has historically been hard to detect because it typically occurs out at sea, well away from the public eye. As a result we have strong penalties in place for when it is detected.
  • The introduction of electronic catch and position reporting will increase the likelihood of breaches of our commercial fishing rules being detected. As a result, we need to ensure we have flexible penalties available and that we can respond in a fair way to the level of offending.
  • Having a graduated range of offences and penalties based on the number of fish, and how often breaches are made, would be more balanced while encouraging good fishing practices, for example, the ability to issue infringements for low-level offences.

How will you enable more responsive decision making processes for fisheries management?

  • The current settings for making decisions on catch limits create a relatively slow process, which restricts our ability to respond in a timely way to risks and opportunities. We also want to better use the richer information that will be delivered by electronic catch and position reporting to make quicker decisions on catch limits. To help achieve this we propose a greater use of harvest control rules to streamline decisions on catch limits.  Harvest control rules set pre-agreed actions to change catch limits in response to changes in the abundance of a fish stock. These types of rules are already being used with success in a number of rock lobster fisheries.
  • The harvest control rules are designed so that a fish stock will be kept at or above its agreed target level of abundance. If abundance falls below the target then catch limits are reduced so as to return the stock back to its target.
  • The use of harvest control rules in important shared fisheries would deliver benefits to stakeholders by enabling transparency in the decision making processes and deliver greater certainty to stakeholders for future management decisions.

How will more responsive decisions ensure that our fisheries remain within sustainable limits?

  • For most of our fisheries, we must maintain the abundance of the stock at or above the level that will ensure sustainability over the long term, known as maximum sustainable yield. A harvest control rule will recommend the required adjustment to catch limits to ensure that the fish stock stays at or above this benchmark.
  • Two key performance measures, the "hard limit" and the "soft limit", are used to evaluate fisheries that have fallen below our benchmark for sustainability. The setting of these performance measures, and our response to ensure the stock returns to a sustainable level, is guided by the Harvest Strategy Standard for New Zealand Fisheries.  These performance measures will be a key component in the design of harvest control rules.
  • For example, if our science tells us that the fish stock has fallen below the soft limit, the fishery will need to be actively rebuilt, and may require a significant reduction in the total allowable catch. If the stock falls below the hard limit, the fishery may need to be closed entirely, and rebuilt at a fast rate.
  • At the time of our most recent assessment in 2017, 27 (of 165) stocks were considered to be below the soft limit (and therefore overfished), and 10 of these 27 stocks were also considered to be below the hard limit.
  • In all cases where stocks are below the soft or hard limit, corrective management action has been put in place to rebuild the stocks. For example, one orange roughy fishery has been effectively closed (it has a total allowable commercial catch of 1 tonne) to maximise the rate of rebuilding (another was declared to be rebuilt in 2017). Rebuilding of several bluenose fisheries began in 2008. Four catch limit reductions have been made since then to ensure that these fisheries are rebuilding to target levels.

How does this work relate to improving ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management?

  • Fisheries New Zealand is committed to continuing to move towards further incorporation of ecosystem considerations in our fisheries management. The proposals considered as part of consultation are a step-change towards obtaining better information on catches of both target and non-target species, as well as increasing our understanding of the impacts of fishing on the wider marine environment.

Do you have an example of innovation in action?

Yes. Hear from Napier couple, Karl and Sarah Warr, who are using an innovative trawl technique to ensure their catch is sustainable.  This has opened new markets to them which allows them to catch less fish while earning more.

Video – Karl and Sarah Warr (3:49)

[Title card: Meet Karl Warr: Fishing Innovator]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: I commercially fish with a small inshore bottom trawl vessel. We fish out of Hawkes Bay, Napier, and when I say we, it's my wife and I. 

[Photos of: Karl on his trawl vessel, Karl and his wife Sarah in their backyard.]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: One of the problems that I find with bottom trawling is that while it's a very efficient method of catching fish, it's not terribly selective.

[Underwater shots of innovative trawl gear, and gurnard and snapper.]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: So my work has been focused on trying to create apertures, or holes, in the net that favour the release of the small fish.

[Underwater shot of small gurnard escaping innovative trawl gear.]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: Bringing fish to the surface and then deciding whether you want them or not is far less desirable from releasing them down in their habitat to carry on and do their thing.

[Photos of: the innovative trawl gear on Karl's trawl vessel.]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: So our innovation is around trying to maximise the selectivity of what we do. To be focused on just taking what we are there to take and doing the best job we can to release everything else in as unharmed and undisturbed fashion as possible.

[Title card: How many small fish are saved?]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: I know on the round fish, the likes of gurnard and juvenile cod and that, it's well over 90 percent difference. For the elliptical fishes, the research that we've done to date is 70 percent plus release of juveniles.

[Title card: How has this benefitted your business?]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: It's cheaper to work because the mechanism flies off the bottom and doesn't get degraded by touching the bottom – it's not wearing out – so the longevity of it saves cost.

[Underwater shot of snapper and gurnard caught in innovative trawl gear.]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: It's very efficient at passing water through it, so it saves a bit of fuel, it allows water to flow through the net a little bit easier. But most significantly it allows us to produce a much better quality product. For us, it gives us a point of sale difference when we are marketing our fish, and it allows us to compete more effectively in the market place.

[Title card: Do consumers have a role to play?]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: A lot of consumers don't really still at this stage understand the provenance in their food. Ten years ago if I had said to someone well this is sustainably caught fish, they would have been "What";?

[Photos of various fish on ice in crates, on board Karl's trawl vessel.]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: Today that's raising a lot more eyebrows, but it's still not the norm. If you think to yourself about going to a restaurant, how often do you actually check in with the provenance of what you are eating?

[Photo of cooked fish presented on a plate.]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: So, if it's the chicken or it's the fish or the beef, do you ask for a back story? Tell us about where these products have come from, because the consumer dollar is extremely powerful at driving change at the production coalface.

[Title card: Can sustainable fishing add value to our fisheries?]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: I think we can afford to establish ourselves as a really premier product.

[Photos of various fresh-caught fish on board Karl's trawl vessel.]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: A product that has fantastic provenance and environmental awareness and responsibility tagged in there, as the point of sale, as the key component. We're pretty small, we've got to make a little bit more noise. And we're down the southern end of the planet, so we've got to be out there, be visible, be seen. It's important to have a point of sale in the global marketplace. We can't walk into the global marketplace because we're big players, we've got to walk into the global marketplace because we're special players. You know, innovation is key to getting that over the line.

Ask yourself the critical questions, and don't be afraid to question your model. Don't be afraid to step out of the box and do things a bit differently and explore.

[Title card: How can I find out more?]

Karl Warr [seated along a wharf]: Getting in touch with me. We have a Facebook page called Better Fishing, so yeah, just hook up on there. We're based in Napier if you're in Napier look us up, we're in the phone book. We're open and welcoming of people who want to know more.

[End of transcript]


Karl and Sarah Warr article and photo [PDF, 395 KB]

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