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Anderton: First reading, Fisheries Amendment Bill

Jim Anderton

24 July, 2008
First reading, Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill (No2)

Madam Speaker, I move that the Fisheries Act Amendment Bill (No. 2) be now read for a first time.

At the conclusion of the first reading debate I intend to move that the Bill be referred to the Primary Production Select Committee, that the committee present its report to the House on or before 25 August 2008, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting except during oral questions, and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders [192 and 195(1)(b) and (c)].

Madam Speaker, the Fisheries Act Amendment Bill (No.2) will amend the Act to address a serious problem identified by the High Court in February 2008 in relation to setting the Total Allowable Catch.

The ruling of the High Court has made an amendment to the Act inevitable.

The ruling the court made concerned setting the Total Allowable Catches, or TACs – the TAC is the main instrument we use in determining how much fish can be taken sustainably from the sea under our Quota Management System.

The Court found that before the Minister of Fisheries can set a Total Allowable Catch under section 13 of the Act for any fishery, he or she must have received estimates of the current stock level of the fishery as well as its target stock level.

The target stock level is the level or biomass that can produce the maximum sustainable yield of that fishery.

The court’s requirement sounds straightforward.

But it isn’t.

The information needed to produce such estimates is available for very few of our fisheries. Fisheries research is very expensive.
To get the information, would in many cases be unreasonably costly in both time and other resources.

Consequently, since the Act came into force, a number of management strategies—all consistent with the concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield —have been pursued.

Some of these strategies have used modelled estimates of biomass levels and others have used alternative indicators of the relative state of the stocks.

Some of the alternative indicators have direct links to Maximum Sustainable Yield. In other cases the links are inferred. In all cases the management strategies aim to manage fish stocks towards achieving the maximum sustainable yield.

It is a sensible method. In the absence of an enormous, probably uneconomic level of research, we don’t have the information the court requires. This is the case for the majority of New Zealand’s 629 quota management stocks. It is particularly relevant to the New Zealand fishery because research costs are recovered from the industry itself and if the court ruling was applied strictly, it would almost certainly put most fishing companies out of business.

The approach used in New Zealand is the way other countries manage fisheries similar to ours. It is the approach used in Australia, in the United States, and in Canada.

The High Court’s finding prevents the Minister of Fisheries from using established practices when making catch limit decisions for fisheries in the Quota Management System.

Fisheries Ministers should be able to make decisions on the Total Allowable Catch in the absence of estimates of the current and target stock level, using the best information available from a range of sources.

Catch limits should be set using the best information available, without requiring a level of research that involves unreasonable cost, effort or time.

The amendment bill will enable TACs to continue to be set under section 13 using existing management approaches, even where the current stock level of a fishery and the biomass that can produce Maximum Sustainable Yield are not able to be estimated reliably.

It will not change the general approach of the Fisheries Act.

It will not alter the balance between the objectives of sustainability and utilisation, nor will it alter the balance of interests between stakeholder groups.

Without the amendment, the Total Allowable Catch couldn’t be set for many fish stocks and meet the ruling set by the Court.

In other words, the High Court’s finding this year prevents the use of established practices to make catch limit decisions for fisheries in the Quota Management System.

The next fishing year starts on 1 October 2008. It is important to amend the Fisheries Act so that I can make decisions on new catch limits before the 1st of October.

I will, therefore, be requesting the Primary Production Select Committee to report the Bill back to the House by 25 August, so that the Bill can be enacted by mid-September. I would appreciate their co-operation in this matter. Needless to say, relevant stakeholders have been consulted.

Although the Select Committee will have a shortened consideration period, it is important to note that this Bill does not seek to alter the approach taken to setting catch limits in New Zealand. It merely seeks to make the current practice lawful.

I commend this Bill to the House.


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