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Sustainability Decisions For Southern Rock Lobster

Concern at very low stock levels has driven a decision to reduce the commercial catch limit for southern rock lobster, Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson said today.

The total allowable commercial catch for the CRA7 (Otago) quota area is being reduced from 111 to 89 tonnes, while the CRA8 (Southland) TACC is being reduced from 711 to 568 tonnes. The new limits take effect in the 2001-2002 fishing year, beginning 1 April.

"This will be a difficult adjustment for commercial cray fishers in the south," Mr Hodgson said. "However the stock must be allowed to recover for the sake of the longer term survival of the fishery and the industry."

“Cray stocks in the southern areas are now estimated at just 4 percent of their pre-fishing level, which is 23 percent of the desired level for sustainable fishing. The stocks have not shown the necessary signs of rebuilding that would allow fishing to continue at current levels.

"In this instance I have reduced only the commercial quota rather than the total catch, so the recreational and Maori customary allowances are unaffected," Mr Hodgson said. “Estimates of the non-commercial catch are very uncertain but it is clearly a small percentage of the total. New information on the non-commercial take will become available this year, which will enable this matter to be revisited in the future.”

Attached: Letter to fishery stakeholders on quota decisions

26 March 2001


Dear Stakeholder

I have recently made decisions on the management of rock lobster fisheries for the 2001–02 fishing year. In making my final decisions, I have taken into account advice from the Ministry of Fisheries (MFish), the National Rock Lobster Management Group (NRLMG) and submissions received from the fishing industry, Mäori, and recreational and conservation groups.
CRA 7 and CRA 8
Summary of my decision
I have determined to reduce the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for CRA 7 from 131 tonnes to 109 tonnes. Within this TAC I have decided to make an allowance for other sources of mortality of 5 tonnes, make a recreational allowance of 5 tonnes, provide for a customary catch of 10 tonnes, and reduce the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) from 111 to 89 tonnes.
I have determined to reduce the TAC for CRA 8 from 798 tonnes to 655 tonnes. Within this TAC I have decided to make an allowance for other sources of mortality of 28 tonnes, make a recreational allowance of 29 tonnes, provide for a customary catch of 30 tonnes, and reduce the TACC from 711 to 568 tonnes.
Stock Assessment
The decision rule for the NSS sub-stock (Southland (CRA8) and Otago (CRA7)) has been invoked. The decision rule prescribes a TAC reduction of 20% when the Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) falls below the projected level required to rebuild the fishery to BMSY by the year 2015–16.
I am aware of industry concern over application of the NSS decision rule in 2001. The 2000 stock assessment indicates that the NSS substock is 4% of virgin biomass and 23% of BMSY. The stock does not appear to have responded significantly to the TACC reduction made in 1999. Projections undertaken as part of the 2000 stock assessment indicate that there is a strong likelihood that stock size will increase significantly as a result of a 20% reduction to the TACC. If catches were left at current levels the assessment indicates there is a possibility that the stock size could decline over the next five years. I am not comfortable with the current status of the fishery. I want to prevent, as much as I am able, further decline in the stock and ensure that the stock will move toward BMSY at a reasonable rate.
Socio-Economic impact
I have carefully considered the information submitted by stakeholders, as well information contained in the NRLMG report, on the possible socio-economic impacts of a 20% TACC reduction. I recognise that there may be socio-economic impacts resulting from the reduction to the TACC in New Zealand’s largest rock lobster fishery, which provides a significant component of revenue for the Southland economy. My principle motivation for rebuilding the stock is that it will result in an improved contribution to the local economy. Given the status of the stock, I believe that the requirement to rebuild the stock from its current depleted state outweighs the potential socio-economic impacts of the reduction in the TACC.
Allocation decision
I have decided to reduce the TACC by 20% rather than the TAC as required by the decision rule. As a general principle I support the view that all stakeholders should share in the rebuild of a fishery. However, the level of removals by other stakeholders is uncertain but best available information suggests that it is very small relative to the commercial catch. New information on the level of recreational catch will be available later this year. As the stock rebuilds we will need to carefully monitor removals from the fishery to ensure that allowances within the TAC are not exceeded. Accordingly I ask that the NRLMG examine information on other allowances as new information becomes available and provide recommendations to me as warranted by the information.
I applaud the initiative taken by Ngai Tahu to voluntarily reduce the level of customary harvest from the fishery in response to the depressed state of the stock. This sends a signal to other users of the resource about accepting management responsibility to ensure the stock rebuilds and I have asked MFish to discuss with recreational fishers options that are available to them to aid the rebuild.
Ngai Tahu have not supplied any updated information on the actual level of customary harvest from the customary regulations for use in the TAC setting and stock assessment process. I have asked MFish to discuss this matter with Ngai Tahu so that the issue can be resolved for future stock assessments and for making appropriate provision for customary harvest within the TAC.
NSS decision rule
Scientific advice suggests there is a strong possibility that the decision rule will be triggered again in 2003. However the estimates of BMSY and CPUE at BMSY from the 2000 stock assessment and the 1997 stock assessment model on which the decision rule is based are different. I agree that the cumulative socio-economic impact of the previous reduction made in 1999, the reduction I intend to make on 1 April 2001, and the possible reduction to the TACC on 1 April 2003, may be significant. Accordingly, I believe it is reasonable for the NRLMG to re-examine the rule to ensure that it is based on the best available information and provides a reasonable balance between rebuilding the stock and the socio-economic impact of measures taken to achieve this rebuild. However, given the importance of this fishery I am not willing to see the rebuild timeframe extend much beyond 2015–16 on the basis of current information.
As part of this work it would also be useful to improve the level of information on the socio-economic impacts of management action in the CRA 7 and CRA 8 fisheries. The NRLMG proposes to investigate options for gathering more information on these impacts. This information will enable a better assessment to be made on the potential socio-economic impacts of the current rate of rebuild of the stock. Therefore, I would like this information to be presented to me at the same time as the NRLMG makes recommendations resulting from the review of the NSS decision rule.
CRA 7 stock assessment model
I have noted the submission from the Otago Rock Lobster Industry Association on separate management for the CRA 7 fishery. I am aware of the variation in fishery characteristics between CRA 7 and CRA 8. However, there is some interrelationship between the stocks and a strong likelihood that lobsters from CRA 7 migrate into CRA 8. Given this relationship, I am cautious about any shift from the combined management regime that currently operates. However, I will consider any proposal put forward by users in CRA 7. My consideration will be subject to agreement being reached by stakeholders and subject to the proposed management regime/stock assessment model providing sufficient certainty for me to be confident that my legislative obligations can be met.
I have decided to roll over the CRA 3 management regime for the 2001–02 fishing year. I note that there has been a slight decline in CPUE. However, the stock assessment suggests that the CRA 3 fishery is above target levels specified in legislation. I also note that a new stock assessment will be completed in 2001. I intend to reconsider the management regime for this stock for 2001 after consideration of the revised stock assessment and views from tangata whenua, the CRA 3 User Group, and the NRLMG.
As you will know I was unhappy at the process undertaken to open the month of September to commercial fishing in 2000. I understand there was a great deal of discussion over this issue in relation to the 2001-02 fishing year during the meetings held in Gisborne. There was some support for opening September at the beginning of the fishing year and also some support for maintaining a closure until a full review can be completed. I am not opposed to allowing some flexibility if some unforeseen circumstance (such as bad weather) prevents the majority of commercial operators from fishing, provided that: the status of the stock is not jeopardised; users can agree on the proposed measure; and the proposal is developed within the timeframe necessary to amend a regulation.

I believe that the decision on whether September should be open is best left up to the users of the CRA 3 fishery. However, I do not intend to allow the problems created by last years proposal to occur again. Accordingly, I will not consider any proposal to open September for this year unless it:

has the support from the majority of commercial participants in the fishery;
has been subject to a reasonable period of consultation with tangata whenua in the CRA 3 area and other users of the resource; and
is submitted to MFish before 30 June 2001.
I recognise that the timeframe is problematical because fishers may not be able to determine if weather patterns have restricted orwill restrict fishing as they did in 2000. However, the process for passage of regulations is such that this amount of time must be allowed to ensure that all of the administrative requirements are met.
The use of regulations to enforce the closed seasons in CRA 3 creates a largely inflexible management regime. A longer term review of the regime could consider what alternative methods might be available to enforce the closures but allow more flexibility, or even whether the closures are necessary given the status of the stock.
I would like to signal my appreciation to those in the CRA 3 area that have been involved in the review of the fishery, particularly those tangata whenua and non-commercial stakeholders that have signalled a willingness to participate in fisheries management discussions. I am hopeful that with this continued enthusiasm we can create a combined management group that will once again be an example to other fisheries throughout New Zealand. I look forward to receiving updates on how things are progressing in the fishery, and the views expressed by tangata whenua, commercial fishers and other stakeholders on options for the 2002–03 fishing year.
Framework for managing rock lobster fisheries
I support the plan for management of rock lobster fisheries proposed by the NRLMG. I acknowledge the work undertaken by the NRLMG in developing the framework and encourage the group to continue to develop it to ensure that it effectively and efficiently meets the legislative obligations under the Fisheries Act 1996.
Decision rules
I strongly support the concept of a robust decision rule framework because it provides users with some certainty about future management action, while ensuring that the obligations of the Fisheries Act are met with minimal involvement from Government. Ideally, decision rules should be formulated so that they not only ensure sustainability objectives are met with a high level of certainty, but are also robust and encompass the management objectives of all stakeholders.
Decision rules are going to form an important component of fisheries plans. The rock lobster fishery has had decision rules of varying complexity operating for a number of years. For this reason, the NSS substock, which has the most developed rule, is looked at both nationally and internationally as a model for use of decision rules.
I recognise that for decision rules to work effectively there must be buy-in from stakeholders about the objectives of the rule and ongoing review to ensure it remains effective as new information and techniques for assessing stocks and developing rules become available.
However, I am concerned about the way in which commercial fishers approached issues concerning the NSS decision rule. One of the key benefits of decision rules is the ability to move away from ad hoc annual decision making. There is significant risk to the integrity of the decision rule process when a proposal to review the rule is linked with consideration of management action in the fishery for the upcoming year. Seeking to relitigate the decision rule after it has been triggered undermines Government confidence in the process and principals of decision rules and sends the wrong signals to fishers in other fisheries that may be looking to implement similar management frameworks,. particularly when management action in CRA 7 and CRA 8 was first signalled several years ago.
Nonetheless, I accept that there are issues with the NSS decision rule that need to be resolved. For this reason I request that the NRLMG develop terms of reference for a review. I would like advice presented to me on any revisions necessary to the rule as part of the NRLMG Annual Report for 2001 so that a revised rule can be in place to guide management decisions in 2003.
I would also like to see some development occur on the decision rules that apply to the NSN (CRA1 and CRA 2) and NSC (CRA 3, CRA 4 and CRA 5) stocks. Some work has been undertaken on a decision rule matrix that should enable development of rules that address a wider range of objectives than those currently in place. I would like to see steps to develop these rules occur in 2001 and be advised of the action undertaken in the NRLMG report for 2001. In the interim, while these new rules are developed, I agree that the current NSN and NSC decision rules should be used as the basis for management decisions for the 2002–03 fishing year.
Research Issues
I note that industry continues to augment the available stock assessment information with voluntary log book data and tagging programs carried out under standards and specifications designed by the Ministry. I commend these initiatives and believe that they significantly improve the understanding of stock status and biological characteristics of rock lobster fisheries. I also note the useful role undertaken by the NRLMG in the rock lobster research planning process.
Uncertainty in estimates of total removals
I agree that accurate quantification of removals from a fishery is important for stock assessment purposes. The ongoing implementation of the customary regulations will enable more accurate information to be available on the level of customary catch. I also note that a national recreational diary survey was completed in September 2000. This information will be available for use in management decisions for 2002. MFish Compliance is reviewing the methods used to develop estimates of illegal take in rock lobster fisheries. The aim of the revised methodology is to ensure that estimates are as objective as possible and that the methods used are consistent between fisheries and between years. I would like to see this revised methodology in place for use in supplying illegal harvest estimates for the 2001 stock assessment.
Compliance issues
I note that user groups remain frustrated over the level of illegal removals in rock lobster fisheries.
The Ministry's compliance business expends a considerable proportion of its resources on inshore fisheries, of which rock lobster is one of the most important. Unfortunately, the incentives to harvest rock lobster illegally are high, and are likely to remain so in the medium term.
Our rock lobster fisheries are important, but the compliance resources MFish can dedicate to these fisheries are finite. MFish needs to ensure that those resources are deployed wisely. I suggest that the NRLMG and the Ministry work together this year to determine the role and priority that amateur and commercial rules play in achieving the management objectives for our rock lobster fisheries. This type of work will provide the cornerstone for developing compliance strategies for the rock lobster fisheries.
With respect to black market and poaching activities, I can assure you that the Ministry views this work as a high priority, and will continue to deploy resources in this area.
Role of the NRLMG
I have considered the role of the NRLMG in future management decisions, in particular how it will integrate with fisheries plans as they are developed. While I support the development of regional based fisheries management forums, I believe that national bodies such as the NRLMG still have an important role to play, particularly given the skills and knowledge the group has built up since its inception. The NRLMG is in a unique and important position to contribute to the development of fisheries plans and the framework for developing management advice. It is also well placed to supply cross sector advice to user groups as they seek to develop plans, and also to develop fall back management regimes that can operate effectively in the absence of a plan.
I have noted the concern expressed in submissions regarding representation in the NRLMG. For the group to function effectively it is important that each member represents the views of their constituent groups and relays discussions from the group back to their constituents. I am still strongly of the view that matters relating to the rock lobster fishery should be submitted to and discussed by the NRLMG. The NRLMG will then provide advice to me, together with MFish.
I note that the group intends to consider how best it can integrate into the fisheries plans process during 2001 and report to me as part of the 2001 Annual Report. I look forward to viewing the group’s proposed role.
The rock lobster fishery is one of the leading fisheries in New Zealand for stakeholder participation in management. The benefits to users that have resulted from this participation are obvious in the status of most rock lobster stocks. However, there are still issues that need to be resolved. The development of regional fishery-based user groups that are inclusive of all those with an interest in the fishery is important to progress the management structure. From a fisheries management perspective the development of better decision rules that not only provide stakeholders and Government with a level of certainty but also better meet legislative and stakeholder objectives will be an important step forward.
I am sure that with the continued work of the NRLMG and participation of stakeholders, the rock lobster management framework and status of the stocks will continue to improve.

Yours sincerely

Hon Pete Hodgson
Minister of Fisheries

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