By Waveney Warth
Ngāti Pāoa recently placed scallops, mussels, crayfish and pāua around Waikehe Island under a two year rāhui. Photo credit: Rachel Mataira / Our Auckland
Long read: 10mins. "Appraisal of New Zealand fisheries" plus bonus content at end "ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BUYING FISH IN NEW ZEALAND"
Seafood New Zealand and our Ministry for Primary Industries tell us that we have a sustainable fishery, but many hapu, marine scientists and ANYONE trying to catch fish without commercial fishing equipment say it’s getting harder and harder to catch and eat fish, crays, and shellfish around the coast of Aotearoa. Tim and I explore who’s right and how to make sure the fish you eat is not leading to the extinction of Maui’s dolphins (or killing our unique seabirds or trawling through and destroying the seafloor ecosystem) in the Feb 2021 ‘Sustainable Fishing’ episode of How to Save the World podcast, available here: xxxxx
In researching for the episode I came across a lot of rich information, and had the privilege of interviewing Geoff Keey Forest & Bird’s chief Strategic Fisheries Adviser; Te Atarangi Sayers representing the hapu led Motiti Rohe Moana Trust; and reform advocate, Barry Torkington, Fishery Policy Advisor for LegaSea (NZ Sport Fishing Council) and former director of the commercial Leigh Fishery.
The focus of the podcast itself was to, as broadly and succinctly as possible, highlight issues and then to really focus on (as always!) what listeners can do. Which for this topic is “what can we do best support Aotearoa’s marine environment through to a future where our fish stocks are not in decline; where species never become ‘functionally extinct’; where the ecosystem of the ocean seafloor isn’t legally and routinely destroyed through bottom trawling and dredging; and where we only ever take and eat what we want - not also accidental dolphins and seabirds and tonnes of other fish we call ‘bycatch’ because we don’t like to eat them”
This blog focuses on the political context: what the status quo is, on what the issues are, who the players are and what legislative changes would be great to see. I’ve also thrown in the basic take home messages from the podcast so you have it all in one.
Excuse the bullet points!! We're all busy. Call it an intravenous information injection.
The Quota Management System (QMS)
LegaSea & The Price of Fish
LegaSea NZ is the communications arm of the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council. Find them here: www.legasea.co.nz. They are vocal advocates for fishing reform for many reason - not the least being that the status quo is making it really hard for recreational and small scale commercial fishers (one man bands / one woman choirs) to catch fish like we used to, (Near the shore, e.g. dingy or off the wharf, and without state of the art fish tracking equipment).
They made a documentary a couple of years ago called ‘The Price of Fish,’ which I recommend watching. I reference it in the podcast and also through this blog as PoF. Watch it for free here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIQNDYoymMU. The documentary was so good it has already led to a bit of a shake up at MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries) with some tangible improvements.
LegaSea have manifesto for inshore fisheries reform which focuses on getting large scale commercial fisheries out of the inshore zone; ntroduce a minimum unfished biomass of 50%; Ditching the quota and replacing with time limited licenses. Find the Manifesto here: https://legasea.co.nz/about-us/what-is-legasea/manifesto/. And if you’re sold, sigh the Rescue Fish Petition (which is in support of the changes) here: https://rescuefish.co.nz/
Seafood New Zealand
Seafood New Zealand is the commercial fishing representative body. Their website is full of interesting facts and they also have very engaging looking factsheets for school kids but…. but I contend that these guys are really just good at the art of presenting information in a way that makes it sound good … here are a few examples. Seafood New Zealand state that, https://www.seafoodnewzealand.org.nz/industry/key-facts:
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
The Ministry for Primary Industries has a conflicted mandate:
LegaSea(& Barry Torkington interview) point out the following:
Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge
I would be remiss not to mention Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge from MBIE (Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment), check their website out here: https://www.sustainableseaschallenge.co.nz/ And their origins with MBIE here: https://www.mbie.govt.nz/science-and-technology/science-and-innovation/funding-information-and-opportunities/investment-funds/national-science-challenges/the-11-challenges/sustainable-seas/
Est 2014 with $70 million in funding over 10 years. 220+ researchers are involved from 36 organisations across Aotearoa. It is one of 11 Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment-funded Challenges aimed at taking a more strategic approach to science investment.
They are proponents of Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM). Where its the Eco System that’s managed - not just the fish. They say: ‘everything is connected; intergenerational; tailored for local values; based on science and mātauranga Māori. Hooray! Sound great…but they do come under criticism from experts who feel the forest is lost for trees. Eco Systems are notoriously complex, it will take years more research to try and untangle how pulling one lever here effects another variable there. If we genuinely were confused as to why there are less fish in the ocean and less shell fish on our shores then yes! Let’s do nothing while we research… But it really doesn’t seem that is the situation we find ourselves in.
Other experts worry that they aren’t seeing clarity, so far, in what can and can’t be done. Forest and Bird advocate Geoff Keey is warns that understanding complexity must be balanced by the need for robust laws that can’t be cleverly side stepped.
Their “10 things you should know” report (https://www.sustainableseaschallenge.co.nz/news-and-events/news/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-ocean-this-summer/) highlights that its all very complex and we need lots of research; and that plastic pollution and sediment and lots and lots of things create problems. Totally agree and good on them for pointing it out, but personally it is disappointing, and maybe even alarming?, that the issue aren’t framed around the easy wins: we KNOW we are taking too much (in terms of OCEAN management best practice) and we KNOW that common commercial fishing methods result in bycatch of endangered seabirds, marine mammals and destruction of marine habitat through the routine practices of dredging and bottom trawling.
So my vote would be more for the voice of hapu around the country, Forest and Bird and LegaSea saying lets not take what is an urgent and essentially basic thing (like 1% of Crayfish left in the Hauraki Gulf) and turn it into something so complicated we can’t work out what to do.
Ministry for the Environment;
Along similar lines is the MfE Marine Environment 2019 study: https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/marine/our-marine-environment-2019-summary. Its a great document, full of sad statistics about the general decline of all things marine, but I didn’t come away with any sense that that we need to urgently change the way we let people fish in Aotearoa’s waters.
Motiti Rohe Moana Trust
I spoke with Motiti Rohe Moana Trust representative Te Atarangi Sayers who has been involved for a long time in trying to protect his hapu’s customary fishing grounds and wahi tapu sites, mahi that continues on from kaumātua right back to the 1950s and earlier. The hapu are situated in and around Tauranga. When the Rena (big cargo ship) went to ground in 2011 on a reef that is part of the rohe’s customary fishing grounds the end result was the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust taking the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to court (more than once) and out of that came a series of decisions, which in a nutshell, sets precidents for Tangata whenua Kaitiaki and other community members and the 'local environmental conditions' to inform decision making across the legislative landscape. It effects many things including the application of the Resource Management Act.
Learn more here: http://www.nzlii.org/cgi-bin/sinodisp/nz/cases/NZEnvC/2018/67.html?query=Mrmt
or this is an older article here: https://rmla.org.nz/2016/12/14/motiti-rohe-moana-trust-v-bay-of-plenty-regional-council-2016-nzenvc-240/
When I asked Te Atarangi what the best way to ensure the fish on your table was sustainable he didn’t hesitate: The best fish is the one you have the relationship with. The more time you spend the more you understand the lifeforce. He added that the purpose of ‘fishing’ is to share a relationship with the life force for our well being, we need to restore Maturanga values – whakapapa associated with places and space’.
Ngāti Pāoa Rāhui
As a response to the degradation of Tīkapa Moana (Hauraki Gulf), Ngāti Pāoa recently placed scallops, mussels, crayfish and pāua under a rāhui which covers the entirety of Waiheke Island and lasts for (at least) two years.
Read more here: https://ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/articles/news/2021/02/waiheke-local-board-gives-support-for-rahui-to-protect-the-island-s-kaimoana/
and here: Recreational Fishers rally to provide support here: https://legasea.co.nz/2021/01/30/recreational-fishers-rallying-support-for-waiheke-rahui/
Coromandel hapu conglomeration rahui
Recently a conglomeration of hapu put a rahui on collecting scollops on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsular. “They were getting smaller and smaller” says one representative, “The rahui was put in place to prevent the scollops collapsing because the government wasn’t doing anything” .
LegaSea spokesperson, Sam Woolford, adds their support for the rahui: “Commercial catch limits have remained high while actual harvest declines. This is a failure of the Quota Management System. Mismanagement of scallops has seen the commercial fleet dwindle from a peak of 23 boats, down to four this season… While the Quota Management System is failing Kiwis, it’s motivating to see that the local community rallying together and taking control to ensure their scallop beds are not wiped out like we have already seen in the Marlborough Sounds, Tasman and Golden Bays, and the Kaipara Harbour.”
In Coromandel, fishery companies are legally allowed to dredge 50-tonnes of scallops yearly. For the 2019-2020 season, however, they only caught 13 tonnes (26%) of their total allowable commercial catch, due to scallop population decline. There have been years of harvests being unconstrained (in that they can’t reach the total catch limit they are allowed to legally take) and dredging (which is dragging a metal cage along the ocean sea floor which destroys the marine floor habitat).
So far, evidence of this decline is anecdotal, but it points to decimated populations of scallops, crabs, crustaceans, other shellfish and sea life that inhabit the seafloor::
Forest & Bird:
Ocean landing page: https://www.forestandbird.org.nz/what-we-do/oceans. Forest and BIrd are focused on the by catch issue. Here’s the campaign: https://www.forestandbird.org.nz/campaigns/zero-bycatch
I asked if they had alternative system “with a name” like we have the ‘Quota Management System’ or proponents of the ‘Eco Based Management System’ or the ‘Manifesto’ for reform from LegaSea. Geoff Keey said the that most succinct proposition of the issues and the changes that are needed is in the briefing for incoming ministers. Which can be found here. https://www.forestandbird.org.nz/sites/default/files/2021-02/Forest%20%26%20Bird%20Briefing%20to%20the%20Incoming%20Government%202021.pdf
Best Fish Guide
Best Fish Guide is Forest and Birds consumer guide to selecting the least harmful fish. This is an absolute must for anyone trying to navigate this tricky space: , http://bestfishguide.org.nz/
‘Marine Stewardship Council’ blue tick
The MSC is an international certifier of sustainable fisheries. It was Unilever’s idea to help certify their own fish products. They approached the World Wild Life FOundation (WWF) and they have been a partner from the start. Find them here: https://www.msc.org/
However, big warning sign, WWF can only advise. Sometimes they advise against certifying but they do it anyway. They cay on their website that they do not always stand by the blue tick. - which really makes it meaningless for any consumer trying to navigate: https://www.wwf.org.nz/what_we_do/marine/sustainable_fisheries/marine_stewardship_council/
HERE ENDTH THE LESSON!
So that’s the little run down on what I recently learnt about what turns out to be quite a loaded, contested space, where not all is what it seems. The information following from this point onward is a cut and paste of what I said in the podcast for those of you who didn’t catch it.
New Zealand has four main issues - reflective of global patterns:
Different sectors have a different take on what the main causes of these problems are:
Amend the Fisheries Act:
Let’s do what we can that we know will make an enormous, immediate difference
What’s the best way to get a sustainably caught fish on the table?
The best I can do is this suggestion from Barry Torkington, Fishery Policy Advisor:
Next best - is my "Ultimate guide to buying fish" - which is a pretty comprehensive guide to avoid putting unsustainably caught fish on the table…
“in a good way would be not with nets, or trawling” e.g. longline or pots.
What else can you do?
And don’t forget to help out by signing these two petitions: