Fisheries Amendment Bill full of hidden fish hooks

September 21, 2022

Proposed changes to the laws governing fisheries will remove the current protections for fish sustainability and affect fishing rights for more than 600,000 fishers.

Currently, the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries has a statutory duty to manage fish stocks to a level that provides for future generations’ needs, and to consider public input. The Minister is also obliged to consider all the available information, mitigate any environmental impacts and set aside sufficient fish to allow for Māori customary and public interests, and mortality associated with fishing, before allocating the balance as the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC).

The latest version of the Fisheries Amendment Bill, announced today, proposes to introduce preset decision-making, based on a predetermined formula.

This would substantially weaken Ministerial discretion to make precautionary decisions. Instead, changes would enable officials to undermine the sustainability of popular fish species such as blue cod, crayfish and snapper.

Also, the public would be denied opportunities to have their say or push for decisions that would increase coastal fish populations.  This legislation would effectively end the ability for the public to raise an outcry over overfishing and ongoing use of destructive fishing techniques.

Nearly 10,000 people used the public submissions process earlier this year to ask for a split in the bill, which was publicised as a way to introduce cameras on commercial fishing boats.

Overwhelmingly the public asked for the well-consulted section dealing with cameras on boats to progress now. But, the hidden implications of other clauses that have nothing to do with cameras on boats and everything to do with weakening sustainability provisions should be progressed separately, after meaningful consultation.

Greenpeace spokesperson Ellie Hooper said: “We are disappointed that the sustainability provisions in the current law will be weakened. Repeatedly in the past, public outcry has forced the Minister to step in and take action over destructive fishing. Under these new amendments, there will be minimal public input in matters which concern all of us.”

Forest & Bird spokesman Geoff Keey said: “The ocean is very important to New Zealanders but is under pressure from fishing and in places like the Hauraki Gulf is now severely depleted.  Too many marine mammals, endangered turtles and seabirds are being caught.  Parliamentary support for getting cameras on the boats and overhauling discarding rules is welcome, necessary and long overdue.”

“The committee has acknowledged the concerns of conservationists and recreational fishers that there are risks in the Government’s proposal to create pre-set decision rule.  Without appeal rights and stronger sustainability principles to help safeguard the ocean and ensure ocean advocates have a strong voice, the Bill falls well short of what is needed and is a missed opportunity.”

Allan Davidson, New Zealand Underwater Association said: “Everyone can see there are fewer fish in the sea. Fish are a commonly-owned asset, like water, that will now be tucked out of public oversight. The public has been able to step in to raise the alert when fish sustainability is being threatened. How can it be right to propose changing to preset decision rules, a system used recently to manage crayfish – now described as functionally extinct in the Hauraki Gulf?”

New Zealand Sport Fishing Council president Bob Gutsell said: “It’s disappointing that this bill has been able to go ahead unchallenged and unchanged.”

“We need to ensure there are lines of defence left in place against overfishing. And we need to ensure an abundance of fish for our children.”

For example, after a public outcry, the current Minister was able to shut down most of New Zealand’s scallop beds to try to save them from overfishing. After thousands of people made submissions, David Parker was also able to make a conservative decision for the future management of the snapper population on New Zealand’s West Coast – this was after populations dropped to just seven per cent of original levels in the 1980s.

LegaSea team lead, Sam Woolford said: “The proposed changes cut off the three prongs of the current protection framework. These are the public submissions process, the separation of commercial allocations and non-commercial fishing allowances, and Ministerial discretion that enable  David Parker to make a series of conservative decisions to sustain and restore marine life.


More information


Fisheries Amendment Bill – record of process and submissions