A crayfish at my table

  • Pete Hodgson
Fisheries and Aquaculture

[Address to Australasian Rock Lobster Research Showcase]

Thank you for the invitation to speak here today.

I am very much in favour of the theme of this gathering. Sharing knowledge is critically important for sustainable management of fisheries.

In many respects our understanding of the marine environment and marine ecosystems is about a century behind our understanding of life on land. Cooperation amongst researchers - and between science, industry and government - will be crucial in the effort to correct that.

I'm here as both Minister of Fisheries and Minister of Science. I think that's a fortunate coincidence of portfolios.

I'm committed to making fisheries decisions based on good science. Actually the law requires me to, so that's just as well.

The Fisheries Act says I must base my decisions on the best available information. It also embodies the precautionary approach, which means a lack of information leads to conservative decisions.

Under this framework the quality of information available to me is crucial. That means good stock assessments, but not only that. It means good information on the effects of fishing on the marine environment.

We don't have that properly covered yet. I don't think anyone does. But I have made it clear that it is a priority for me as Fisheries Minister to drive an improvement in that area of marine research.

We're making a start with a substantial investment - just over $40 million in the next five years - in the science and management of marine biodiversity and marine biosecurity.

The share of that going into marine biodiversity research is $14 million. That will cover database development, analysis and research on threats to biodiversity, and research on selected marine communities including seamounts, Spirits Bay off northern New Zealand, and Antarctica's Ross Sea.

So I'm pleased to see that this research showcase is about much more than stock assessment, important as that is.

The knowledge being shared here about reproductive biology and behaviour, about oceanic, larval and juvenile processes, about habitat, environment and biodiversity, about customary fisheries management and practice, and about commercial fisheries practices, technologies and product quality shows the kind of depth and range that I would hope for in a mature fishery.

I should acknowledge, in case anyone thinks I'm overlooking it, that stock assessment of rock lobster has come along way in recent years and it continues to develop.

The new length-based stock assessment model used for rock lobster is one of the most advanced we have, in that it makes use of all available data from the fishery. The incorporation of data from the industry log book and tagging programmes contributes significantly to the quality of the overall picture we have of the fishery

Good stock assessment advice has been critical to the development of the management framework for rock lobster, which is amongst the most advanced for any New Zealand fishery.

The introduction of decision rules for adjustments to catch levels - which benefit both stakeholders and Government by providing certainty about management action - has been based on advice from stock assessment scientists. It is vital, if those rules are to work, that they are consistent with biological objectives.

There are still plenty of challenges in improving stock assessments, as this audience will be well aware. More precise quantification of removals from rock lobster fisheries remains an important task and predictive modelling is an area I would like to see further developed.

I am aware of use of recruitment and settlement data in the West Australian rock lobster fishery to provide some predictive analysis of rock lobster stocks. Data on likely recruitment to the fishery will clearly add more certainty to management decisions.

We also need to keep looking for improvements in estimates of MSY and BMSY. The law requires stocks to be managed to or above BMSY, but there is still a significant level of uncertainty surrounding the estimates for a number of stocks.

I think the research on aquaculture propagation that's on show here is genuinely exciting.

These are tricky beasts to raise. I know a little bit about that, as the locals in the audience will be aware by now, because I tried it myself before I got into politics.

About 10 years ago I set up a 1000 litre recirculating saltwater aquarium in the basement of my house in Dunedin and kept crayfish in it. I got the adults to feed, mate and spawn. I then tried to grow the larvae through their thirteen stages in captivity, but only got them through to stage four before they all died.

I visited the NIWA aquaculture research centre here in Wellington a few weeks ago where Graeme Moss's team have done much better than I did. In fact they've done better than just about anyone else in the world, with all due credit to those researchers in Japan.

Given that rock lobster exports are already worth more than $100 million a year, cracking the secret of farming them is clearly going to be a stroke of brilliance. I wish every success to those working on this and I'll be watching with a great deal of personal interest.

I want to close by mentioning a matter of wider interest to anyone involved with marine research, and that's the development of an Oceans Policy for New Zealand.

The intention is to address the lack of integrated policy governing our oceans. We have extensive policies in this country for managing our land, but not for the marine environment. Nor do we have any integration between land and marine management.

Inevitably, the wide variety of human interests in the oceans come into conflict. But without an over-arching policy framework guiding the decisions the Government and others are asked to make when that happens, many of the decisions are ad hoc, contradictory and inefficient.

An Oceans Policy will also help us identify and address the inadequacies in our knowledge of ocean ecosystems and the impacts of various activities and events on the marine environment. It will help us work out what we don't know and what we need to know.

We're beginning the development of the policy in a slightly unusual way, by launching a nationwide consultation process to find out what New Zealanders' values and priorities are in relation to the marine environment.

Just over a week ago I announced the appointment of a widely experienced group of eight New Zealanders, led by Dame Catherine Tizard, to lead that consultation process.

It's going to be a very challenging job. But I think we have a group that can tackle it in a way that increases understanding of the issues, and takes us some way towards finding the shared values necessary for a policy with lasting relevance.

I urge you to take an interest in the Oceans Policy process as it develops over the next year or two.

In the meantime, thank you again for the invitation to speak, and I hope this research showcase is as useful and interesting for you as it looks to me.