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Michael Parkin Interviews President Recreational Fishing

Sunday 18 August, 2013
Michael Parkin Interviews Geoff Rowling, President, NZ Recreational Fishing Council
Q+A, 11-midday Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz   
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Mr Rowling, thank you for your time this morning. We appreciate it. I do want to start with Snapper 1, and when you look at that allocation, recreational fisherman last year took almost a thousand tons more than they were supposed to of this fish, whereas the commercial operations were close to their targets. Isn’t it right that recreational fishermen take the cut here?
GEOFF ROWLING - President, NZ Recreational Fishing Council
Well, there’s a couple of points there. The figures that were given about recreational fishing are interim figures, and we’re not quite sure about them. The figures that were set for the amount that was available to be caught for public fishers has never been agreed to in the first instance.
MICHAEL       They’re the figures everybody has to play by, aren’t they?
GEOFF           Well, according to the Ministry of Fisheries, yes. They are the figures that they’ve created over the years, but they haven’t actually been agreed to by the public in the first instance. The other issue of commercial fishers living within their allowances are not quite right either. While in the process of catching that allowance, they’re killing large numbers of juvenile fish, and they’re also seeming to be dumping quite a lot of fish as well.
MICHAEL       But let’s talk about the recreational guys first of all. I mean, you’ve had some research done by the Auckland Business School, and it says what percentage of the population are recreational fishermen?
GEOFF           There’s somewhere round 26 per cent of New Zealanders that are fishing, and that’s people over 18 fishing more than three times a day, so quite a significant portion if you add in the kids as well.
MICHAEL       26 per cent of people, though, yet you get 40% of this Snapper 1 allocation. So does that not seem fair enough?
GEOFF           A question of fairness? I’m not too sure about that one. It’s what happens to the rest of the fish that are caught by the commercial sector. Are they available for New Zealanders to eat, or are they sent away overseas? There seems to be some problem with the price of fish in the shops these days. It seems to be getting higher and higher all the time.
MICHAEL       But there’s no problem getting that fish, is there, when you go into the shop?
GEOFF           Not as far as I’m aware in most places, no.
MICHAEL       So what would recreational fishermen be prepared to accept? Obviously, Nathan Guy’s ruling out this cut to three. Where will you meet the government on this, do you think?
GEOFF           What I find with public fishers is that they are prepared to play their part in the rebuild of fisheries. What’s happened in this fishery is that over the last 20 years, the public fishers have taken a number of bag limit reductions, so they are playing their part. What they feel is that the commercial sector perhaps hasn’t played as big a part, and they’re still continuing to use practices that were maybe acceptable in their grandfather’s days but aren’t acceptable to the fishing public any longer. So we think there needs to be a two-pronged approach. If you look at the paper that the minister put out, it creates opportunities for the minister to cut the public access but also increase the commercial access virtually at the same time. So-
MICHAEL       But those commercial guys are meeting that limit, as we’ve said. Really, don’t we have to tackle the problem of the recreational fishermen first?
GEOFF           No, we don’t actually think they are meeting those limits. They are reporting that, but in the process of doing that, they’re catching a lot of fish. For example, in that fishery, there are two other fisheries - the gurnard fishery and the trevally fishery - which are running at about one at 50 per cent and the other at 65 per cent caught. What that does then is enables commercial fishers to go round and round and round out in Snapper 1 and search these paper fish, and while they’re doing that, they tend to get an inflated by-catch of snapper, and that creates the problem. There is a poor balance in a lot of the catch portfolios at the present time.
MICHAEL       So what would you like to see happening? What’s the answer here?
GEOFF           The answer? Well, you’ve got to go back to the beginning of the quota management system and the setting up of-
MICHAEL       But, I guess, what would you like to see come October when this decision’s got to be made?
GEOFF           I’d like to see the minister give everybody a warning that things are looking- the possibility of catch cuts are going to have to take place and that people need to work together to work out how they’re going to manage this fishery so that future generations’ access is assured.
MICHAEL       But if you cut that commercial fishery, that’s going to cost jobs. 1200 jobs out of Snapper 1 alone worth $180 million a year. I mean, people would rather have a job than a fish, wouldn’t they?
GEOFF           No, why are we going to cut the jobs? Are you saying public fishing doesn’t create any jobs? Well, this is the narrow economic focus the present government seems to be following in fisheries is that all of the fish are available for commercial use and very few for public use. So I don’t subscribe to that. That’s a very narrow economic doctrine that needs to be changed.
MICHAEL       Will this issue cost National votes at the next election?
GEOFF           Depending on how they handle it, absolutely. At the next election, there is a great possibility now with these issues being raised publically about the state of our fisheries and the state of the legislation surrounding them for all of the existing political parties who may want to be part of the next government to come up with some decent public fishing policy that looks into the whole scheme of things.
MICHAEL       And what limit, though, will keep fishermen voting for National, those who do already? I mean, where does it sit between three and nine?
GEOFF           I don’t think I should make that call. That’s-
MICHAEL       Somebody has to, though.
GEOFF           I know. It’s the minister’s decision, and I don’t want to pre-empt the minister’s decision. It’s his prerogative. He is second only to God when it comes to making decisions about fishing allocations in this country.
MICHAEL       Is that right? Should he be?
GEOFF           Uh, probably not, no. I think it’s actually political decisions made about political expediency, and the management of our fisheries isn’t necessarily the best way to do things, and I’d like to see some reforms take place so we get better management, better marine stewardship.
MICHAEL       A bigger issue for another day. Geoff Rowling, thank you very much for your time.
GEOFF           Ok, thank you.

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