Amateur Fishers File High Court Proceedings
12 August 2005
Amateur Fishers File High Court Proceedings In The Kahawai Legal Challenge
The New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council Inc and the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council Inc have lodged judicial review proceedings in the Auckland High Court which challenge the Minister of Fisheries decision-making over the management and allocation of kahawai under the quota management system.
The two Fishing Councils represent the many hundreds of thousands of amateur and recreational fishers from around the country. The case is backed by fisheries advocacy group "option4".
The proceedings are expected to be a test case, and will be the first legal proceedings brought by amateur and recreational fishing interests under New Zealand's fisheries legislation. The Fishing Councils are taking the case to protect the fishing rights of the non-commercial fishing sector. The key objectives of the Court proceedings are to:
Ensure that "more fish are left in the sea", so there is a return to better fish catch rates; and
clarify the Minister of Fisheries' decision-making powers for amateur and recreational fish species.
New Zealand adopted a property-rights based approach to commercial fisheries in 1986. Amateur and recreational fishing was left out of this property-rights framework. Many key fisheries were fished down to low levels before they were included in the quota management system.
When combined with Ministry of Fisheries policy which favours allocation of fishing rights based on recent catch levels, the Fishing Councils, and their technical and scientific advisors believe this over-fishing has led to fisheries management decisions that are unfavourable and prejudicial to the interests of non-commercial fishers.
Mr Jeff Romeril, president of the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council, says "Fishing is a nationally treasured pastime. It is part of what sets the quality of life in New Zealand apart from other countries.
Yet, for over two decades, our members have been reporting a serious decline in many key fish stocks. Our club members have reported a huge decline in the availability of kahawai from the late 1980's. Recent boat ramp surveys from the Ministry of Fisheries show a continuing decline in recreational catch rates for areas in Northland and the Hauraki Gulf. The decline in the number and size of kahawai schools has important flow-on effects to other fisheries," said Mr Romeril.
The Fishing Councils attribute the current low numbers of kahawai schools to past over-fishing by commercial purse seine fishers before the entry of kahawai to the quota management system.
Mr Keith Ingram, the president of the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council says that amateur and recreational fishing interests have in the past simply had to accept that the amount of fish left available for their use is "the leftovers" after commercial needs are met. "However, this is a fundamentally flawed situation, which has led to this test case." Mr Ingram said "there is a strong public interest factor in the Fishing Councils bringing the case over kahawai.
It is not about our own interests. This is a case for and on behalf of the fishing public of New Zealand." He said "it is estimated that 1 in 3 New Zealanders fish either recreationally or for food". Most amateur fishing in New Zealand is "as much about putting fresh seafood on the family table as it is about recreation."
Keith Ingram said there was recognition by the Minister of Fisheries that there was a problem as the Minister had recently announced a new policy to manage fish stocks above sustainable levels. However this policy is not yet firmly established, and at present, existing case law leaves unanswered questions about how the Minister of Fisheries is required to make decisions affecting amateur and recreational fisheries, especially where there is not enough known about sustainable stock levels.
The Fishing Councils have decided to bring the proceedings as a test case to clarify the legal situation, and in the hope that the proceedings will result in future decision-making which will improve the quality of fishing for the public of New Zealand.