Originally published in Energy and Environment on August 15
A bill creating a new regulatory regime for freshwater fisheries could lead to new debate about the management of controversial species such as whitebait and eels, as well as anger some recreational fishers.
The Conservation (Freshwater Fisheries Regulation) Reform Bill introduced to Parliament last week does not in itself bring in any new management measures, but does reform the current regime and bring in new regulation powers. It also brings in better protection for indigenous freshwater fish within conservation areas.
The Department of Conservation says the current regulations in the Conservation Act are outdated and difficult to use and do not bring the basic controls on the taking of fish into line with current practice and expectations.
NZ has 77 species of freshwater fish. 53 of them are indigenous and most of those are endemic. A large proportion of these are endangered. Some fisheries have significantly reduced in productivity and size over the last 50-100 years, notably whitebait, eel, mussels and lamprey.
Eels are an important commercial fishery, NIWA estimates the commercial eel fishery to be worth $6.1m annually, but there are concerns about the state of some populations. Commercial eeling is managed by MPI.
Whitebait fisheries are managed under whitebait fishing regulations by DoC. The regulations do not control the amount of fish taken, but control catch methods, seasons, and hours in which fishing can occur.
There have been requests to ban commercial sale or fishing of some species including whitebait, but DoC says the evidence shows habitat loss and degradation is a far larger problem for freshwater species. Any changes to the whitebait regime would be done through the new regulations after consultation.
DoC said there may be concern from some stakeholders about new regulation making powers allowing covering some currently unregulated activities that kill fish. But any future regulation of those activities would need to be fully consulted.
DoC also said some will question why more extensive reforms are not being done, notably banning of all whitebait fishing.
Treasury has warned DoC there had not been consultation with iwi and stakeholders. However, the reform was designed to ensure there were no changes to Maori fisheries rights and any new regulations would have to be consulted upon
DoC also said “a few individuals will not be able to fish without an authorisation (those who fish for sport, those who do recreational fishing in conservation areas) … They will generally have easy access to alternatives, or the lost activity is one society does not condone.”