Sweeping Changes To Fishing Rules For The Fiordland Marine Area

Photo Credit : Dirty South Dive

The Fiordland Marine Guardians have welcomed widespread changes to the area’s recreational fishing rules, which came into effect on April 25th. The new rules are one of the outcomes of a review that the Guardians led on the sustainability of fisheries in the fiords. The review began in 2019, prompted by growing concern from the community that key fish stocks (including rāwaru/blue cod, hāpuku/groper, pāua and scallops) were in trouble. The Guardians have advocated strongly for the changes and have been working with the community for several years to define the problems and develop solutions.

In New Zealand, whilst there are established allocations for recreational take of fished species (tonnes per year), there is no effective way of monitoring actual take relative to these allocations. In other words, the total take of a species by recreational fishers can’t be capped. In contrast, commercial fishing is set to a Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC), and take is measured to ensure the TACC is not exceeded. The challenge with managing recreational fishing under these circumstances is that regardless of the daily recreational limits, the more boats and fishers you add to the mix, the higher the total recreational take. Even with conservative bag and species limits, there comes a time where the total recreational harvest is no longer sustainable. The signs that fish stocks in the fiords are declining indicate that the current level of fishing pressure is too high.

With a lack of hard data it is impossible to state exactly how poor the fishing has become in the fiords. Those who are relatively new to the area might be impressed by the large pāua and blue cod you can find if you look for them. Those a little longer in the tooth reminisce about the days when they could catch groper in the fiords with ease and be so confident in catching blue cod for dinner that they wouldn’t take any meat in with them. And it’s that baseline that the Guardians want to return to. This isn’t simply a case of holding the line. In several instances, fish stocks need to be rebuilt, and the only way to achieve that is to significantly reduce the overall level of fishing pressure in the fiords. The fiords are a predominantly recreational fishery, as commercial fishing is excluded from the internal waters and, with the exception of rock lobster, the majority of commercial fishing takes place on the open coast.

The new rules are designed to encourage people to fish in places that can support a higher level of fishing effort. There are higher bag limits for finfish on the open coast (20 per fisher) than inside the fiords (10 per fisher). These limits reflect the fact that stocks on the open coast are more productive than those inside the fiords, where lower amounts of sunlight, wave energy

and higher freshwater cause fish to grow and breed at slower rates.

The daily limits for individual species of finfish and shellfish have been reduced across-the-board. In many cases, limits for individual species are higher on the open coast than inside the fiords. For example, on the open coast the daily limit for blue cod is 10, compared to a limit of 1 inside the fiords. Similarly, the daily limit for pāua is 5 on the open coast and 2 inside the fiords.

The main changes are:

  • Reductions in mixed bag and single species limits for most species of shellfish and finfish.
  • Establishing a new zone called “the Fiords” within each fiord, that begins at a boundary across the entrance headlands of each fiord
  • Tiered mixed bag and single species limits (lower in the Fiords) to incentivise fishing in the more productive open coast areas.
  • Closure of scallop and oyster fisheries throughout the Fiordland Marine Area.
  • Closure of hāpuku/groper/ bass fishing in the innermost parts (Internal Waters) of all fiords
  • Rock lobster limits have not changed

The Guardians’ review of fisheries sustainability has also caused the Minister of Fisheries to consider introducing restrictions on fishing methods in the fiords (recreational and commercial) and changing legislation to enable daily recreational limits to be imposed on vessels. Vessel limits could be an effective way of preventing localized depletion of stocks, particularly in vulnerable areas such as the inner fiords.

The biggest lesson that we have learned is that we need robust data to inform the management of these fisheries in a timely manner. In the fiords we are trying to manage a largely recreational fishery, without any data about the effort and catch from fishers that use private vessels. We are therefore very pleased that Fish Mainland has developed the Mainland Catch app. If the fishing community gets onboard and reports their catch, we will be in a strong position to review these rules in five years’ time.

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