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Hoki cut good news, but future cuts possible

23 September 2004 - Wellington

Hoki cut good news, but future cuts possible

Forest and Bird welcomes the Government's announcements of major cuts to the hoki quota but warns that further cuts may be necessary if low recruitment of juvenile fish continues in future years.

"Forest and Bird commends Fisheries Minister David Benson-Pope for cutting the hoki quota to 100,000 tonnes. We have been calling for cuts since 1999," said Forest and Bird's Senior Researcher Barry Weeber.

"However, if the recruitment of juvenile fish remains low, then further cuts to the hoki quota may be needed to stave off an orange roughy-like collapse of fish stocks," he said.

The Government needs to reflect on how New Zealand's supposedly world-leading quota management system has allowed the hoki stocks to fall so low," he said. "The western hoki stock, which spawns off the West Coast of the South Island, is estimated to be about 20 percent of what it was in the late 1980s and could be as low as 13 percent of its original stock size."

Mr Weeber said we should not allow fisheries to get into such a terrible state.

"This year fishers may catch less than two-thirds of the hoki that they are legally allowed to. The new quota means there has been a sixty percent reduction in the legal take of hoki in just four years. This is a last ditch effort to put a poorly managed fishery back on track," he said.

"In 2001 the Marine Stewardship Council gave hoki a sustainability accreditation and ignored Forest and Bird's advice. The MSC review panel in 2002 said that the hoki stock was in 'good shape.' Two years, and massive cuts, later we hope they are feeling suitably embarrassed," he said.

"The Quota Management System is not about environmental management, but about providing industry with a reliable long-term supply of privatised fish. The next challenge for the Government is to put the hoki fishery on a proper environmental footing," he said.

"Too many seals and seabirds are killed in the hoki fishery each year. Between 1989 and 2000 over 6200 fur seals are estimated to have drowned in the West Coast hoki fishery alone," he said. "Our estimate is that in 2003 over 300 fur seals and 600 birds were caught in the hoki fishery."

NOTES:

The hoki fishery is ranked by Forest and Bird's Best Fish Guide as a red (avoid) species (see http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/bestfishguide/species/hoki.asp.)

The hoki fishery was New Zealand's largest. Hoki is caught in depths of between 300 and 800 metres and have a maximum age of around 25 years. The current catch limit of 180,000 tonnes per year is 25 percent below the previous limit of 250,000 tonnes and the Minister's decision reduces that to 100,000 tonnes. Hoki is caught principally by over 30 large factory trawlers some over 100 metres long, with over 40 percent of the catch caught by foreign vessels (Russian, Japanese, Norwegian, Chinese and Korean) fishing on behalf of New Zealand companies.

Stock Size

The latest Ministry of Fisheries stock assessment report (Annala et al 2004) on the hoki fishery warns that, for two thirds of the hoki stock (the Western Stock), the fishing is unsustainable. Stock has plummeted to about 20 percent of its unfished size. The report states that "For the Western stock model results from three separate runs gave median estimates of current biomass from 13 to 22 %Bo [unfished stock size. The 95% confidence intervals are between 10% to 30%]. Recent recruitment (1995-2001) is estimated to be poor."

This is well below the minimum legal limit set in the Fisheries Act. The Fisheries Act requires stocks to be maintained at or above the level that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (section 13(2)(a)). For hoki Bmsy is taken to be 40%Bo.

The Stock Assessment Report on the hoki fishery warns that, for the western hoki stock, "continued fishing at current catch levels is unlikely to be sustainable and may not even be feasible in the short term". The western hoki stock makes up two-thirds of the hoki fishery.

The report warns that cuts will be needed to meet performance criteria for the fishery and expresses doubt over whether shifting fishing from the western stocks to the eastern fishing grounds is a viable alternative solution. The report states:

The other values in Table 14 indicate in most cases "that quite substantial cuts in TACC levels are required to meet the three performance criteria adopted by the working group. Under the scenario where poor recruitment continues, catch levels may need to be reduced even further."

Marine Stewardship Council

The MSC disputes panel said in 2002 that "the stock was in good shape". This over-optimistic view clearly has not been justified in the last 2 years. The fishery now breaches principle 1 of the MSC which requires a fishery to be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing or depletion of exploited populations. For this reason alone the hoki fishery should have its MSC certification revoked.

Environmental Effects

The hoki fishery has significant environmental effects that are not being controlled through precautionary measures:

Fur seals: Fur seals populations adjacent to the West Coast hoki fishery are in decline and further declines are likely. Between 1989 and 2000 an estimated 6200 fur seals were killed in the Western hoki fishery. About 300 fur seals were drowned in 2003.

Measures to reduce fur seal deaths have been hampered by the lack of progress on sea lion deaths in the squid fishery. The sea lion exclusion device had a high failure rate in this year's squid fishery.

Seabirds: Albatross and petrel species are killed by the hoki fishery, principally white-capped, Buller's and Salvin's which are all listed in the IUCN- the World Conservation Union red-list as vulnerable threatened species. Overall four of the albatross species and one of the petrel species observed caught in this fishery are recognised as threatened species. Our estimate is that in 2003 over 600 birds were caught in the hoki fishery. The total number of birds killed in the fishery could be under-estimated by up to five times according to the Department of Conservation.

Measures to assess options for reducing seabird deaths are taking too long. The discharge of offal is clearly a factor that needs to be dealt with in the hoki fishery.

Bottom trawling: About 68 percent of all hoki tows use bottom trawl nets. The fishery involves two types of trawl nets:

* Large pelagic or middle depth trawl nets which can be over 80 metres high and 200 metres wide which can be towed for 1 to 12 or more hours. Around 12,000 tows a year are made in the West Coast and Cook Strait spawning fisheries and many of these tows touch the bottom.

* Bottom trawl nets which are dragged along the sea floor. In a number of cases these are twin nets and can be up to 10 metres high and, for twin nets, up to 400 metres wide and can be towed for 2 to 6 hours. Around 19,000 tows a year are made on the Chatham Rise and Sub-Antarctic fisheries.

ENDS

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