There are growing calls to ban purse seining in our coastal waters. There have been numerous attempts to keep the seiners away from areas important to recreational fishers, to reduce conflict and protect forage species for seabirds and predatory fish. The New Zealand Sport Fishing Council has called on Fisheries New Zealand to better manage purse seining effort. The situation is unsustainable, but so far calls for a comprehensive solution have fallen on deaf ears.
In our view, the failure to address widespread concerns is just another nail in the coffin of the Quota Management System and a fishing industry with an inflated sense of entitlement.
When the QMS was originally established to rebuild seriously depleted fisheries it was based on two primary principles: Resource rentals and husbandry.
New Zealand expected to earn a resource rental for every kilo of fish removed from our waters. This was in recognition that our fisheries are a national, natural resource which needed to be monitored and valued. In the past 30 years the real-time research budget has been squeezed, now controlled largely by corporate interests determined to keep costs at a minimum. And because there is no market premium for these forage fish, bulk harvesting and commodity sales of mackerels, small tunas and baitfish have become the norm.
Of equal concern is that the promised return to husbandry, that had been lost during the race to build catch history prior to the introduction of quotas, has not eventuated. We’ve had three decades of least-cost bulk harvesting with scant regard for kaitiakitanga [guardianship].
There is no escaping the plain truth – guardianship of our resource and the resilience of our marine ecosystem is not well served when school after school of fish are seined, dumped in and then hose-pumped out of these purse seiners.
Like possums in the spotlight, Fisheries New Zealand and the Minister of Fisheries seem powerless to act even when public pressure is mounting.
A ray of sunshine could be emerging from the Pacific. In mid-2018 the Cook Island’s Court of Appeal upheld a challenge by locals. The Court agreed the Cook’s government had not properly considered the impacts of purse seining on bycatch species and local fishers.
Here in Aotearoa, regional growth is stymied by fewer visiting fishers targeting gamefish attracted by the bait schools. And biodiversity is reduced with scarcer forage species sustaining our unique seabirds. Purse seining no longer makes sense so why is it still permitted?