Sustaining recreational fishingFisheries and Aquaculture
[Address to the annual conference of the NZ Recreational Fishing Council, Manor Inn, Whakatane].
I would like to start by thanking you - the Recreational Fishing Council.
You have participated in one of the most far-reaching reviews of recreational fisheries management that we have ever undertaken in New Zealand.
Many of you have given your own time and resources for the betterment of recreational fishing.
At times it has been difficult because few things arouse the passion of New Zealanders like their rights of access to the sea.
But I think it must be considered a success. We have had the highest participation in a public consultation process that I am aware of. Option4 alone generated over 60,000 submissions.
So I am grateful also to all of those who took the time and effort to make their views known. We now know more about the views and objectives of recreational fishers than ever before.
The response is particularly remarkable when we consider that most recreational fishers don't want their fishing to be a political issue. They just want to fish.
I would particularly like to thank a few individuals for their work on behalf of recreational fishers - Max Hetherington, Steve Penn, Trevor Howse, Keith Ingram, Jim Elkington and Warren Lewis. You have taken some hits no doubt, but the process couldn't have happened without you.
For my part, I am committed to the continuing involvement of the recreational sector in the policy process. I am also committed to improving recreational fishing.
That's why I have set up a Ministerial Consultative Group to test and critique policy as it is being developed by officials.
In the near future I will have to make a decision on the way forward and I see this group as providing me with a sounding board for my decision-making.
In New Zealand we have some of the best fishing opportunities in the world for recreation, sustenance and the commercial spin-offs in tourism and charter operations.
Recreational fishing opportunities will become increasingly sought after around the world and New Zealand is uniquely placed to benefit from this.
But all of these things depend on sustainability. Unsustainable use, self-evidently, has nothing going for it. And there is no denying that the quality of recreational fishing is coming or will come under threat. Bit by bit, the recreational right will be eroded by other claims on our oceans. It needs better definition and better protection than it has now, if we are going to stop that erosion as time wears on.
We need a solution deeper than a bumper sticker. We need one that says what the law should look like, what the administration of the recreational fishery should look like.
At present the recreational share of any given fishery is at the discretion of the minister. I don't believe we can trust all future ministers to take proper care of it. So we need to set out in law how we make room for recreational fishing - what criteria the minister must apply when making decisions, the process by which those decisions must be made.
In 1989 Colin Moyle, Minister of Fisheries in the fourth Labour Government, introduced what was in my view a far-sighted policy for recreational fisheries management.
The aim of that policy was to ensure that the fishery resources of New Zealand are conserved and managed for the maximum benefit of the nation.
The objectives were:
to ensure that recreational users have access to a reasonable share of the fishery resource;
to improve where possible the quality of recreational fishing;
to increase participation by recreational users in the management of recreational fishing;
to improve management of recreational fishing;
to prevent local depletion in areas where local communities are dependent on the sea as a source of food;
to ensure that the recreational portion of the resource is shared as equitably as possible amongst recreational users;
to reduce conflict within and among fishery user groups;
to maintain current tourist fisheries and encourage the development of new operations where appropriate; and
to increase public awareness and knowledge of the marine environment and the need for conservation of fishery resources.
These objectives still remain as the basis of our work in recreational fisheries. I have not yet met anybody who disagrees with them.
The issue is how we achieve them.
It has been said that our efforts in achieving these objectives since 1989 have been patchy.
But a great deal of change has occurred in fisheries management in that time.
The centralised fisheries management plans that were the intended vehicles for the implementation of many of these principles have been replaced by a more ecosystems-based management framework.
The Deed of Settlement with Maori has changed the face of fisheries management, creating a much more robust framework for customary and commercial rights.
And now we have new tools for local management becoming available, through Fisheries Plans and with them quite a different approach based on stakeholder involvement rather than complete central government control.
Many of these changes overtook the recreational issues on the policy agenda. This has shown us, if nothing else, that it is one thing to state admirable first principles and objectives and quite another to make them happen.
If we are going to give real effect to these policies it will require legal and organisational support for the recreational right.
And importantly it will require operating within a fisheries management framework and recognising the interests of all stakeholders.
What I am seeking to do with the current round of reforms is to give some teeth to those policy principles.
This is what the Soundings process has been about. This is the hard job.
But I think we'll get there.
We have made some significant progress with the public consultation process and our co-operative approach through the joint working group.
We know that recreational fishers need the legal backup to give effect to the policy principles of the 1989 policy
Fisheries management in New Zealand is based on defined rights of access. A sector whose rights aren't clearly defined will lose out to others with more clearly defined rights.
Access to a reasonable allocation of the fishery for the public should not be an aim or an objective - it should be guaranteed. It should not be subject to the whim of some future government or bureaucracy.
We know also that the management of recreational fisheries needs improvement.
Not all of you will agree with me here, but I say the quota system has helped.
In some parts of the country we are enjoying some of the best fishing in years. It must be recognised that we have a significantly better inshore fishery overall than we did in the first half of the 1980s, before the QMS. I say that while acknowledging at that in some parts of the country there is severe local depletion.
For the future we need to ensure that there is good knowledge about the nature of the threats we are facing.
Sustainability should not just be about commercial sustainability. This will mean a greater focus by the Ministry on investigating the things that are important to recreational fishers.
We know that recreational fishers need the organisational capacity to ensure that their objectives are pursued.
Good institutional structures are critical. The recreational sector needs to be at the table and they need to have the means to achieve their objectives.
Government cannot be everywhere. While we take a strong interest in ensuring that sustainability is achieved, and the interests of future generations are secure, there must also come a point when local recreational fishing communities stand up and articulate their own needs.
Recreational fishers need the management capacity to ensure this participation - to ensure that recreational objectives are known and pursued with vigour.
Change is always constrained by the boundaries of other participants in the fishery and the binding constraints of sustainability. But I believe these things are achievable.
There are also many other changes going on that will have an impact on fisheries management.
In March the Ministry of Fisheries released three discussion documents on Fisheries Plans. These have great potential for improving recreational fishing, especially at a local level.
The Ministry has taken a thoroughly non-prescriptive approach and they have done that on purpose.
Fisheries plans can, and almost certainly will, differ widely. They will also change a lot over time.
But the big idea with Fisheries Plans is that with the right process, the right content and the right management they will allow stakeholders to step up to the plate.
Importantly, Fisheries Plans give us all the opportunity to take ownership of sustainable management for a particular fishery or a particular locality.
They allow us to use all of the local knowledge and expertise that exists in the community to achieve durable outcomes.
There is also the Oceans Policy. This is overarching policy work. It deals with a lot more than fisheries.
It deals with values and aspirations for the marine environment and how we put them into practice. It deals with how we integrate our management of fishing, aquaculture, mining tourism, energy production, science, communication, defence, transport and so on. And of course sustainability lies at its core.
The first stage of policy development is under way. Material is available to pick up and I recommend you pick it up if you haven't already.
The other important reforms that will impact significantly on recreational fishing are the aquaculture and marine reserve reviews. Both of these have the potential to affect your right of access.
Aquaculture reform has proven hard. A proposed way forward is now being crunched and we will make progress this year.
The Marine Reserves Act Review has completed its public consultation and recommendations are due with the government soon.
Any reform in these areas will address the issue of recreational fishing access rights.
I'd like to close with a suggestion that you take the opportunity this conference presents to talk with those here who are on the ministerial advisory group. I think we're going to make progress, but don't just take my word for it. Ask your people how they feel about it, whether they trust the process I've set up.
There's a lot of political history around this issue. There are people in the recreational sector who believe they have been fighting an uphill battle long enough.
Trust doesn't come easily in those circumstances. But I want to make progress on this issue and trust is essential for that. I'm trying to build it. I'm an optimist. I want to make progress.