Campaign launched to bring awareness to 'raft of fisheries in danger' in NZ waters

As concerns about fish depletion grows in New Zealand, a public awareness group calling for action to address it has started a campaign to bring attention to the issue.

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Legasea programme lead Sam Woolford is proposing sweeping changes to help restore abundance to coastal fish stocks and stimulate regional economies. Source: Breakfast

LegaSeas' Rescue Fish campaign is proposing sweeping changes in fisheries to help to restore abundance to New Zealand's coastal fish stocks and stimulate regional economies.

According to LegaSea, New Zealand's fisheries are in crisis and change is urgently needed to address fish depletion and biodiversity loss.

The Rescue Fish policy is an alternative to the current Quota Management System (QMS), which LegaSea Programme Lead Sam Woolford believes has failed in its intended purpose.

"We're very concerned about fish stocks. Crayfish in the Hauraki Gulf are considered functionally extinct, tarakihi across the entire east coast of New Zealand are well below the 20 per cent soft limit, so there's a raft of fisheries that are in danger right now," he told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.

"They're reaching that point of we need to make quite substantial changes and there are also a number of other fisheries that haven't even had stock assessments so we don't even know the state of the hāpuku, John Dory and a number of other fisheries as well."

Mr Woolford said the current policies show successive governments prioritising economic gain at an environmental cost.

However, Rescue Fish is looking at getting high value from low impact fishery.

"So getting rid of things like bottom trawling, scallop dredging, that kind of quite damaging technique would be removed and the low impact fishing techniques will be introduced or encouraged."

Recommendations presented to Government include:

  • The Crown to buy back all existing rights to fish at fair value 
  • A new independent Authority to be established to set catch limits based on independent scientific research 
  • Māori and the Crown to share governance 
  • A new Fisheries Act be established 
  • Catch limits to be reset at a lower level to ensure fish stocks can recover 
  • Fixed term commercial permits to be sold via a tender process 
  • Payment to the Crown will be a resource rental based on landed catch 
  • Industrial fishing techniques such as inshore bottom trawling and dredging to be banned 
  • Independent monitoring of commercial fishing to validate catches and protect vulnerable species. Monitoring systems and cameras to apply to all vessels.

"At the moment obviously the Government's very much concentrating on economic stimuli, they're actually pumping money into the economy right now to actually keep businesses afloat, so the idea was we take this quota and we buy it back and that would give the fishing industry some much needed capital investment. That would allow them to invest in their businesses," Mr Woolford said.

The Rescue Fish policy was presented to the Prime Minister, as well as ministers' Kelvin Davis, Grant Robertson, David Parker and Stuart Nash in April, but Mr Woolford is yet to hear back, likely because of the Covid-19 crisis.

"There's always going to be apprehension to change, but what we're promoting is this idea that we can restructure the fisheries, the Quota Management System in particular, to be beneficial to the commercial fishermen themselves."

People are urged to give feedback or sign a petition on the Rescue Fish website.