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Speech to the Big Game Fishing Council Conference

Speech to the Big Game Fishing Council Conference and AGM, hosted by the Mercury Bay Big Game Fishing Club, at the Whitianga Town Hall, Whitianga, Coromandel.

I know fishing runs deep in the blood of New Zealanders. Hooking a fish is part of our birthright. Ever since the first bone hook was dropped in the water on a flax string, fishing has been one of the great things about New Zealand.

Whether it's a kid who floats a sprat catcher off the wharf, or a sports fishing crew going after marlin, we're all enjoying the same thrill. And we are lucky to have some of the best fishing water in the world.

Since the first romantic tales of the bounty in our seas seeped out to the world through the racey tales of Zane Grey, we have celebrated our big game. For all the sport and adventure in Zane Grey's stories, the attitudes of those times seem prehistoric to us now. Boaties would catch as many as half a dozen huge fish on a good day and leave them to rot on the beach.

One of the reasons our attitudes changed was that we developed modern fishing clubs. It's fitting that after half a century your council has come here to one of the original clubs. The Big Game Fishing Council has helped to spread excitement about the sport, but also awareness about the importance of the fish, their food and their habitats.

Far more than any government intervention could make a difference, the sector has been aware itself of the need to pursue the sport on sound sustainable principles. Conservation of the species is crucial to the future of the sport. Management of the sport depends - as it has for decades - on your success in educating the public in sound practices. So I am taking the opportunity to wish you well for the next fifty years.

The need to protect game fish species and their habitats has increasingly brought the council into fisheries management. For example, the process of bringing kingfish into the quota management system was smoothed by your council. Submissions from the council and non-commercial fishers gave us useful information. I believe in fact-based decision-making. So the shared information made for a better decision.

The non-commercial sector holds the majority share of some margin. Recreational fishers have perhaps a unique opportunity when compared to other New Zealand fisheries to have a significant influence on the future health of this fishery. Our kingfish fishery is world class and we have a chance of keeping it in an excellent state. Voluntary management measures will increase kingfish abundance. For example, the Council and many fishing clubs recommend a voluntary size limit of one metre.

While I'm on the subject of complimenting your involvement in fact-based decision-making, I want to commend the council for promoting research through the New Zealand Marine Research foundation. The council showed foresight in commissioning and funding more research about targeted fisheries. An on-going major satellite-tagging program for striped marlin in the South Pacific is a good example of successful research programs undertaken by the foundation.

The more knowledge we have about our fishery, the better the decisions we can take. We need to take high quality decisions because the fishing sector is getting more important all the time. On the one hand, fishing is such a central part of our recreational lives, we need to make sure recreational fishers get a fair go - not only for this generation, but for generations ahead, who will want to go fishing as well. And as our lives become more crowded and demanding, the opportunity to go fishing will make New Zealand more and more unique and our lifestyle more and more attractive.

On the other hand, the commercial importance of our fishery is also expanding rapidly. Our fishing and marine industries are growing. They already contribute a large and expanding share of our exports. And in the future I hope and expect they will earn a lot more. That's a good thing - if we want to import oil and engines to fuel our boats, we need to sell to the world.

I recently spoke to a group of commercial fishing people. I told them I wanted them to aim to double the value we receive from our fisheries over the next twenty years. But we are not going to do it by catching twice as many fish. We have to increase the value of our fish exports without increasing the number of wild fish we take. We need to push our fish exports up the value chain. We need to find ways to process and market our fish for more, rather than just selling more fish.

There is no future - for Kiwis or for our fish - in being a low cost-provider of undifferentiated commodity protein - whether it is beef, dairy or fish. Everyone shares the same top priority for our fishing sector. We all want the resource to provide for us today. And we all know it has to be managed to provide for us tomorrow as well.

Everyone wants the rights and obligations of those involved in fishing in New Zealand to be managed fairly. And we all want to keep our resource secure from avoidable threats - whether from unfair exploitation or from environmental pests. Everyone who goes fishing has a lot in common. That's a good starting point for policy. Though we have a wide range of legitimate interests, there will always be a range of differing perspectives and priorities.

I want to address two issues I know the Council is concerned about at present - swordfish and sharks. With Council support, introduction of swordfish and pelagic sharks to the quota management system in 2004 has brought more control over catches. It is important that commercial fisheries are managed so that conservation and good practice within the game fishery has value.

I know that the Council wanted a more conservative TAC for swordfish and it wanted research to confirm biomass of the population. This research is being done. New Zealand and Australia are conducting a stock assessment of the southwest Pacific swordfish stock. Depending on the outcome, New Zealand may recommend stock wide management controls that would apply across the south-western Pacific.

But I should stress that I want to see decisions made on a factual basis - that is, on evidence. I understand that council members support arrangements, as there have been in the past, to manage different sectors using the same space.

The Fisheries Act has some dispute resolution processes that can be used to deal with this kind of conflict. I'm hoping there will be a better way forward with the development of fisheries plans - which I have secured funding to advance. As we work out fisheries plans everyone will have a chance to have their say about the objectives for a fishery.

I am also aware that the NZBGFC is concerned about declining numbers of sharks attributed to commercial fishing. Shark fishing is fuelled by demand for shark fins. Pelagic shark species have now been included in the quota management system. Better management tools are available to manage the fishery. There are stronger incentives for fishers to maximize the commercial return from their shark catch. But I am happy to have a new look at the issue - a National Plan of Action for sharks will be released for consultation shortly.
Everyone will get a chance to have their say.

It's important we approach issues like this in a constructive and consultative way. I want to praise the indications of goodwill I've come across among all fisheries stakeholders. Groups are working together across commercial, non-commercial and customary lines. There are close ties between the non-commercial sector and Maori, particularly with Ngapuhi in Northland. We have a lot of work to do, so the more different stakeholder groups come together, the more progress we will make. And we can recognise we all have priorities in common

One of the main issues we will need to work together on over the next four years will be the development of fisheries plans. The Ministry will soon start consulting on generic standards to go in the plans. These will cover the way we do things - for example, minimum time periods for consultation. There will also be 'fisheries performance standards' - like minimum fish stock sizes, or limits on by-catch or benthic impacts.

The government has approved $5.3 million over the next four years to develop fisheries plans. I am urging everyone who can, to participate, but I recognise it is demanding. There will be a need to attend meetings, process information, provide comment, and talk to your constituent groups - the people out there fishing. I think you will find it is worth all the effort.

These plans will bring you more certainty and more effective rules. There should be less conflict in managing a fishery. At the same time we are developing new fisheries plans, there is more money - another two million dollars - for the Marine Protected Areas Strategy.

This is a move away from ad hoc implementation of marine protection. The ad hoc approach created uncertainty and anxiety among many coastal communities. The Government's Marine Protected Areas Strategy will look at all our waters, region by region. Science will be used to classify areas and plan the right protection. Community views will have to be taken into account so we can protect marine areas properly.

A crucial initiative that will support improved fisheries management over the next few years is the work on a policy for Shared fisheries. The purpose of the project is to make sure the management of shared fisheries allows New Zealand to get the best use from these fisheries.

I know that your representatives have put a lot of time and effort into engaging with the Ministry on initial ideas this year. This is a tough area; there are a lot of conflicting views. We shouldn't be shy of that so long as there are opportunities for everyone with a stake to get involved at the earliest possible stage in the shared fisheries project. That includes non-commercial groups; I have insisted on it.

The process has been held up a bit while we look at the range of options to go in a public discussion document. I hope that will be ready in October. There will be opportunities for consultation when it is available. That will rely heavily on direct communication with the main fishery groups. The large organisations, such as the council, have a significant and valuable role to play. I want to urge the game fishing sector to look carefully at the issues the discussion paper raises and provide feedback. I know your executive and others representing your interests are very committed to making your views known. That's appreciated.

Increased certainty in managing shared fisheries is going to need some give and take from all sides. There is more than one perspective with a legitimate point of view. The Government has a strong commitment to work alongside everyone with a stake in fisheries management. The initiatives I have already discussed will help to achieve that goal.

Another initiative of my predecessor was to establish a Recreational Fishing Ministerial Advisory Committee, and regional non-commercial forums. I have been very pleased to work with the advisory committee to date. It's another way for me to hear, directly, about issues that are important to non-commercial fishers. They are not there as representatives of parts of the non-commercial sector, and they don't replace direct discussions. But they do provide a fresh perspective.

Equally, I hear positive reports about the regional forums that were established at the same time. The regional forums provide non-commercial fishers with another avenue through which they can raise concerns, share information, find out what the Ministry is working on, and input into that work. Ministry staff who work with the forums value the active participation of forum members. Regional forums ensure the non-commercial fishing sector can play more of a role in fisheries management.

One other issue that's been a thorn in the side of fishers: Last year the Ministry of Fisheries reviewed various non-commercial regulations.
There were some very positive outcomes from that review. Consultation on the second round of reviewing non-commercial regulations has just concluded. One that relates to the practice of tag and release is in that round. I expect to be able to consider these soon and announce my decisions. I hope this round is equally successful at simplifying regulations where required, and ensuring the regulations make sense to people who go fishing.

I believe we have a constructive era ahead where we can all reap the benefits of working closely across the various dimensions of fishing in New Zealand. I'm committed to unlocking the potential of our fishing industry for our economy. And as a New Zealander with the wild outdoors blood in my veins, I'm committed to protecting the resource so that everyone who enjoys the sea's harvest can have their day.

We have to make judgements about the best way to manage the resource. I want all our decisions to be as soundly based on facts and science as they can possibly be. And sometimes we have to just do the best we can with the weight of evidence available to us. I appreciate the constructive initiative you have shown in providing more information on both these issues. And I appreciate the increasing habit I've seen across all the sector's stakeholders to work co-operatively. There is a lot going on in fisheries.

There are many areas where we need involvement of game fishing and other non-commercial fishing interests. I am committing to taking an inclusive approach where everyone has a chance to have their say. And I look forward to the progress we can make in ensuring our fisheries are managed fairly and in the interests of all.


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