Recreational and commercial fishers share a sense of frustration at the lack of responsiveness in our fisheries management regime.
Sometimes it can take years, if ever, for a problem in a fishery to be addressed and then it’s often a generic “one size fits all” management response rather than something that’s tailor-made for the fishery. Fisheries New Zealand has limited resources and obviously can’t attend to every little fishery around the country all the time. We’ve calculated that if FNZ reviews stock sustainability and fisheries regulations at a rate of 20 per year (which is optimistic), it would take them 430 years to review every fishstock and regulation! It’s no wonder we’re experiencing fisheries management inertia.
The regional pāua industry organisations (PauaMACs) are doing their bit to fill this gap by preparing and implementing fisheries plans to manage commercial pāua fishing in a transparent and responsive way.
Industry fisheries plans are not long wordy tomes that sit on a shelf gathering dust – they are short, simple and jargon-free. The plans set out the actions that the pāua industry will take to manage commercial fishing activity in a region. For example, the Chatham Islands (PAU4) fisheries plan includes requirements for quota owners and commercial divers to collect data, spread their catching effort, close areas if they are under pressure, and adjust commercial harvest levels in response to a decision rule. Under the PAU4 fisheries plan, industry management measures will be reviewed and adjusted every year using a process that involves community input – a giant step forward in terms of responsiveness, transparency, and local responsibility for fisheries management.
The link between fisheries plans and the Minister of Fisheries’ responsibilities for ensuring sustainability under Fisheries Act is critical. Under a seldom-used provision in the Fisheries Act (section 11A if you want to look it up), any group can prepare a fisheries plan and submit it to the Minister for approval. Before approving a fisheries plan, FNZ undertakes a public consultation process. Once a plan is approved, the Minister must take it into account when adjusting sustainability measures for a fishstock – this provides a way of integrating the actions set out in the plan (which are the industry’s responsibility) with the wider management responsibilities of FNZ.
It’s important to note that the pāua industry’s fisheries plans focus only on what the industry will do – they don’t place any constraints on other sectors such as recreational fishers. Although a fisheries plan is formally approved by the Minister, it does not transfer or delegate any authority from the Minster or FNZ to the industry. Instead, it’s like an additional layer of more detailed management requirements for commercial fishing within the existing management settings.
The pāua industry is enthusiastic about the potential of fisheries plans to improve New Zealand’s pāua fisheries for everyone. For example, all the plans will include fisheries enhancement techniques such as out-planting (reseeding) and translocation. The PAU7 fisheries plan at the top of the South Island has a strong focus on protecting significant pāua habitats because habitat degradation is a major concern in the Marlborough Sounds. A useful and little-known fact about fisheries plans is that they are recognised under the Resource Management Act. A fisheries plan can therefore help ensure that activities managed under the RMA, such as forestry harvesting, aquaculture, or coastal subdivision, do not damage critical fisheries habitat.
We’re also enthusiastic about the opportunities that fisheries plans provide for better local community engagement, including with iwi and recreational fishers. PauaMAC4 developed the Chatham Islands pāua fisheries plan with support and input from a community forum. In Marlborough, PauaMAC7 is working with iwi representatives to develop a plan for the commercial fishery that will dovetail with the existing Iwi Fisheries Plan for the region.
PauaMACs are finding it more challenging to engage with recreational pāua divers when developing fisheries plans due to the absence of mandated recreational representative organisations. So if you’re involved in recreational pāua diving and have some constructive ideas to contribute to the management of commercial pāua fishing in your area, please contact the relevant PauaMAC. Fisheries plans are now under development at the top of the South Island (PAU7) and Kaikōura (PAU3), with the southern fisheries (PAU5A, 5B and 5D) to follow.