Why the QMS has to go

November 15, 2019

There is a growing call that the Quota Management System has to go. It is not fit for purpose because it is not delivering on its goals of resource sustainability and economic efficiency.

Our fisheries managers need to start applying the environmental and precautionary principles in the Fisheries Act 1996 otherwise Regional Councils will step in using the Resource Management Act. And that would create a whole new set of issues.

Currently, we are being served a raft of commercial catch increases even in stocks that have no supporting science. The Minister, Stuart Nash, uses a variety of excuses to justify the latest increases applying from October 1st, none of them meets the criteria of managing fisheries to international best practice standard.

International best practice is maintaining stocks at a minimum of 40% of unfished, original stock biomass level, while some jurisdictions use 50% as their bottom line. Tarakihi on the east coast of New Zealand is currently assessed at 15.9% of unfished biomass.

Red snapper is a case in point because we simply don’t know where it’s at in terms of stock size. There is no fisheries science for red snapper stocks around New Zealand. We do know that the stock on the northeast coast is overfished and depleted. Even commercial skippers admit in private that the fishery in Area 1 between North and East Cape is in serious trouble and they can’t catch the quota. In Area 2, around the rest of New Zealand the stock size is also a mystery.

In September the Minister ignored all advice to make real cuts to actual commercial catch, instead choosing to make paper cuts. That is, Stuart Nash has reduced the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) in Area 1 from 124 to 64 tonnes. Commercial fishers have never been able to catch 64 tonnes since red snapper was introduced into the QMS, so overfishing will continue.

The reduced TACC in Area 1 is being used as justification for increasing the TACC in Area 2 by 286%. The problem is, there will be no actual catch reductions in Area 1. Even if there was a reduction, there is no proof the stocks are linked in any way.
Rewarding fishers in Area 2 who have started targeting red snapper with an extra 60 tonnes of TACC is ludicrous. It is not supported by science and any increase incentivises commercial fishers to exceed catch limits in other fish stocks.

LegaSea is concerned the QMS has descended into the mire of yesteryear where arbitrary decisions are made to maintain catches irrespective of the evidence.

It’s also concerning that we have reverted to subsidising a commercial industry that is both unconstrained in many fish stocks and permitted to use indiscriminate bulk harvesting methods in inshore waters.

Clearly the Minister and the Ministry have given up on the lofty goals of resource sustainability and economic efficiency, because no matter how it’s spun the decisions for red snapper are just pandering to commercial interests while increasing the risks.

The QMS is failing us and our fisheries, it has passed its use-by date and it must go.