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Hodgson Address to NZ Recreational Fishing Council

Pete Hodgson Address to NZ Recreational Fishing Council conference and AGM

[Blenheim Country Lodge Hotel, Blenheim]

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

This is my third time in front of your conference as Fisheries Minister.

Back in July 2000 at this conference I released the Soundings discussion document on the future management of recreational fishing. Rather rashly I suggested the government might be ready to take some policy decisions in about March the following year.

At your July 2001 conference I spoke instead about the lack of consensus arising from the Soundings process, and about the Ministerial Consultative Group I had set up to try to find a way forward.

In July 2002 we were in the middle of an election campaign. I got hijacked by something to do with sweetcorn that might or might not have been genetically modified, and Harry Duynhoven spoke in my place.

By then the discussions with the consultative group had made it clear there would have to be still more water under the bridge before an option for the future could be identified with confidence and a clear mandate. We had also worked out that we needed better information on the recreational fishing catch if we were to make sound decisions.

Throughout this time I have remained committed to finding a way to better define and protect recreational fishing rights.

Or rather, let me start calling them amateur fishing rights – because it has often been stressed during the past few years that the recreational label doesn’t sit well with those who fish for sustenance.

I still have the same concern I spelled out in 2000 – that amateur fishing rights are coming under increasing pressure and cannot any more be taken for granted. The number of people fishing continues to grow, while the space for fishing shrinks and environmental pressures take their toll on fish stocks.

I have never lost sight of, nor let go of the aim of making access to New Zealand's marine fisheries more secure for amateur fishers than it is now. I have learned a great deal about the difficulty of finding a practicable way to do that. And I have learned a lot about the passion and tenacity with which various advocates cling to conflicting views.

But I still expect to get there in the end.

We are now quite close to achieving an agreed reform proposal.

I was particularly heartened by the sector's decision to present a single view on reform issues, as set out in your December joint letter to me. This has allowed us to focus on the issues rather than the groups involved in the reform process.

Officials and a group of amateur fishers known as the Reference Group have meet on seven occasions since I met a delegation of fishers in December 2002. They will be reporting back to you later in the meeting.

Officials report to me that these discussions have been free and frank and are focusing on three key issues:

the identification of explicit statutory, criteria, including the provision of a reasonable daily bag for amateur fishers, to guide the Minister’s allocation decision making under the Fisheries Act; the need for new or modified provisions in the Act to address local depletion issues; and the need for improved mechanisms and incentives to better allow for the management of shared fisheries and an increased role for amateur fishers in the management process.

As I indicated when I last meet with reference group members I am particularly supportive of making the process of allocating fishing rights more transparent.

Allocation criteria in statute that the Minister of Fisheries must take account of would suit me very well. If implemented these would remove some of the uncertainty in the current process. They would also help support and define the current common law access right enjoyed by amateur fishers.

I am told that consensus within the reference group on a reform proposal is close and that I can expect to discuss this with the group shortly.

I have indicated to both officials and the reference group that I would like this work to be completed in time to enable any supporting change to legislation to be enacted this parliamentary term. I want to get on with it.

In any policy development process there are always a few non-negotiable matters.

Critical issues for the Government are the Crown’s Treaty obligations to Maori and the property rights of other fishers under the Quota Management System.

Equally, we have ruled out licensing for marine fishing.

I am aware that some amateur fishers are ambivalent at best about the QMS and its benefits for them. I don’t share those views.

By comparison with other countries, New Zealand’s fisheries are in much better health with fewer sustainability problems. Most of this I ascribe to the QMS which is the cornerstone of the Government’s fishery management regime.

A key issue of concern to amateur fishers is the ability to effectively constrain total catch. This can be achieved better in the QMS than outside it.

Virtually all the amateur fisheries are shared fisheries. The QMS, in my view, is the best regime for constraining the total catch and providing you a reasonable allocation. You have a strong interest in decisions about the Total Allowable Catch and the recreational allowance.

We are moving more species into the QMS and last year I decided to bring in kingfish from from 1 October this year. I did so because I believe that many of the issues to do with the sustainability of this fishery and aspects of the commercial catch are best addressed that way. The Ministry has recently released an initial position paper on the setting of sustainability measures and other management controls for the 1 October introduction. This has attracted plenty of feedback from both amateur and commercial fishers, as it should. While the QMS matures and expands, the Government is also developing several strategies and frameworks to improve management of the environmental effects of fishing. I will comment briefly on some of them.

Last year, the Ministry released for consultation the Draft Strategy for Managing the Environmental Effects of Fishing. This proposes some significant changes in our approach to managing environmental effects including: improved assessment and reporting on the status of species and habitats affected by fishing; a proactive approach to managing and protecting species and habitats; a requirement for environmental risk assessments to be undertaken for fisheries, and use of environmental standards to establish the limits within which fisheries must operate.

The Ministry has started preliminary work on developing environmental standards and officials will be looking to work with stakeholders in this process. These standards will take some time to develop but will give increased certainty for all stakeholders. The Environmental Strategy will be linked to and supported by a number of other, more specific, strategies such as the Marine Protected Area Strategy, the Seamount Strategy, and the National Plan of Action for Seabirds.

Protection of our marine biodiversity is an important component of the Biodiversity Strategy, and one that this Government has made a strong commitment to. As part of that commitment, a Marine Protected Areas Strategy is being developed. The aim is to create a network of areas that protect a representative range of marine biodiversity.

The Biodiversity Strategy contains a target of protecting 10 percent of New Zealand’s marine environment by 2010 in this network. This target is sometimes misquoted. It does not relate solely to marine reserves. The Marine Protected Areas network will comprise areas protected by a range of management measures including marine reserves, fisheries regulations, and areas protected under the Resource Management Act.

Management measures that do not provide complete protection, such as fisheries method restrictions and mätaitai, will form part of the network if they provide sufficient protection. Ultimately, the extent of protection will be determined by considering the level of coverage necessary to protect a fully representative network of marine biodiversity.

The draft Marine Protected Areas Strategy will be released for consultation within the next two or three months. I have no doubt you will have plenty to say.

Marine reserves will be one element of a marine protected area network. As you know Parliament is currently considering a new Marine Reserves Bill.

I know the NZRFC has made submissions on that bill and has many concerns.

Whatever the outcome of this parliamentary process there will be a new Marine Reserves Act and there will, over time, be new marine reserves created as part of a range of measures to protect our biodiversity.

I note that the NZRFC is not opposed to marine reserves in principle but wants to ensure that the rights of its members to access the oceans to fish are adequately protected.

I want to ensure this as well — but I also want to make it clear that there will be occasions, after following due process, where some areas will be closed either to all fishing methods or to specified fishing methods for biodiversity protection reasons.

You are also aware of the aquaculture reform process.

The intent is to have legislation passed by the time the moratorium on new applications for resource consent ends next year.

One of the key components of the reform is to ensure that existing rights, including those of amateur fishers, are protected.

For amateur fishers the reform will mean greater certainty. Aquaculture will only be allowed in area that are specifically set aside for that purpose by regional councils, after a public consultation process and where it has been determined that there is no undue adverse effect on recreational fisheries.

The Oceans Policy is about much more than fisheries, but it is inevitably relevant to amateur fishers.

We are making good progress with Stage 2 of the process. The Oceans Policy Secretariat is working hard to produce a public discussion document containing a draft Oceans Policy, to be released for public consultation by October.

As a sneak preview, the Oceans Policy will set out practical steps to integrate our oceans management system better. This means putting in place common objectives and principles to guide all decision makers, some ideas for improving national direction on environmental management and dealing with the competing uses and values in the marine environment, and a work programme to improve the day-to-day management of all of the activities in our oceans.

I strongly encourage you to stay closely involved in the Oceans Policy process. Through it you and your sector representatives can play an important part in shaping the future direction of marine management in New Zealand.

I mentioned earlier the need we identified for better information on amateur fishing catch and effort.

Expensive surveys relating to particular fisheries or the country as a whole are required to produce estimates of the amateur catch. For many fisheries covered in the national surveys the prediction power of the survey is too uncertain to provide anything other than a ballpark estimate.

These uncertainties have been compounded by the knowledge that both the 1996 and the 2000 national amateur catch surveys contain methological weaknesses. In one case these seem likely have produced an underestimate of the amateur fisher participation rate and in the other case an overestimate. This is likely to have flow-on effects in the estimation of the catch for both surveys.

Like you I am disappointed that there isn’t more certainty about the catch estimates. Catch details, past and present, are an important consideration when making allocation decisions.

I doubt that we will ever have catch estimates for the amateur take that match the information on the commercial catch. However, the difficulties with the 96 and 2000 surveys are a separate and resolvable issue. The availability of better information in the future may mean that decisions on TACs and amateur allowances based on these surveys need to be revisited.

As we're in Marlborough I want to put a couple of issues of particular local significance on the table and say that I'm happy to be questioned about them. One is blue cod. The other is the foreshore and seabed debate.

As a last word let me thank the NZRFC, particularly its executive and other active members, for its work in preparing submissions, participating in fishery management processes and putting forward the views and interests of amateur fishers in many other ways.

The hours you put in are hours cribbed from your businesses and family life. But it is vital that the voice of amateur fishers is heard in the debate over the use and protection of our ocean resources. They need a strong, unified voice. Your efforts are invaluable.

Thank you.

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