Political-speak marginalises recreational fishers’ voice

Recreational fishers need better representation

The saying ‘you can’t fight city hall’ initially came to mind when reading the Parliamentary Regulations Review Committee’s response to Fish Mainland’s complaint about the recreational set net ban in Golden and Tasman Bays.

The complaint contends there was no evidential base to support the ban, especially in the Bays’ estuaries, rivers, lagoons, and inlets where locals have set netted for generations without ever sighting a dolphin. In saying that, Fish Mainland fully supported applying the ban where netting poses a risk to incidentally killing or seriously injuring Hector’s or Maui Dolphins.

Soon after Ministers announced their 2020 decision to impose the ban, two public meetings were held in Motueka to discuss fishers’ concerns. At the first meeting, a show of hands demonstrated that attendees collectively had over 1,000 years of experience fishing with some sort of netting method, and almost all had never seen a dolphin.

Worse still, almost all were unaware of the mid2019 consultation process or the lead up to the 2020 Ministerial announcement to impose the ban. For many, it came as a complete surprise. The Hon Damien O’Connor attended the meeting. He acknowledged fishers’ concerns about the lack of awareness of the consultation process and the lack of information on recreational fishing.

Soon after, Fish Mainland proposed that MPI officials hold a meeting in Motueka to hear first-hand locals’ concerns and proposed solutions. However, officials declined while asserting, “We consider that there was sufficient notice and opportunity for fishers and interested stakeholders to input their views on the proposals”.

Fish Mainland pursued all other options to address the ban, including appeals to the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, the Hon David Parker. It was apparent that the Minister’s responses were drafted by officials who had every incentive to defend their prior advice and actions and avoid any new, finescale information that might question the legitimacy of risk-based assumptions about dolphin mortality.

The only recourse left available was to lodge a complaint to the Regulations Review Committee based on one or more Standing Order grounds that the committee may decide to investigate and make a recommendation to parliament. The committee is chaired by the National Party’s Chris Penk MP and includes one of the Ministers who announced the ban, the Green Party’s Eugenie Sage MP.

The complaint was supported by submissions from several locals and the Mapua Boat Club. It was also supported by MPI’s own 2021 research procurement document that confirms the dearth of information on dolphin distribution in Golden and Tasman Bays and the poor-quality, risk-based assumptions used about the impacts of recreational fishing.

Nonetheless, the Regulations Review Committee decided that our complaint did not meet the threshold for investigation, even in relation to the consultation process, which the committee referred to as ‘extensive.’ We beg to differ, since the voices of the fishers most impacted were not heard prior to the decision to impose the ban. A factor worth noting is that set netting is generally undertaken by older age groups who are far less inclined to access the media channels that government officials use. The consultation process was stacked in favour of DOC, Forest & Bird and others that fully utilised media channels to pad the number of submissions in support of ‘saving the dolphins’, despite most not having any better understanding of the local situation than did government officials.

The inclusive, collaborative approach that Fish Mainland follows highlights the point that had it been set up earlier and involved in the proposed ban from the start, the outcome might have been different.

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