Environmental, fishing and marine conservation groups have joined forces to fight part of a new Fisheries Amendment Bill, which they claim favours the commercial sector and will deny the public a voice.
The Bill seeks, among other things, to bring in pre-set rules around the review and setting of commercial and recreational catch limits, and the speeding up of the process of changing recreational limits.
Fisheries New Zealand says changing pre-set decision rules and recreational fishing controls will support more responsive decision-making.
“Pre-set decision rules would allow the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries to set and adjust sustainability measures and catch settings for fish stocks, within set limits, as needed,” the Ministry says.
“Once in place, it’ll lessen the time it takes to adjust catch limits in response to changes in certain fish stocks.”
The Bill will allow changes to be set by a Notice instead of through a regulation process.
“This will make setting recreational controls faster and more consistent with the setting of commercial controls.”
However, opponents say it risks taking power away from the Fisheries Minister, shift the decision-making to bureaucrats and the fishing industry, and means that submissions from the public and interest groups will no longer be sought or considered.
Lobby group LegaSea’s programme lead, Sam Woolford, says it paves the way for no one but commercial fishers to have any input and the fact that more than 5,500 people objected before submissions closed last month showed that New Zealanders had little faith that the Ministry and fishing industry would manage fisheries appropriately.
“These two groups have made such far-reaching mistakes in the past,” he says. “They have an economic imperative rather than a conservation focus.”
Ti Point resident and former commercial fisher Barry Torkington says that by legislating for cameras on boats to monitor catch and by-product levels, the Ministry was quietly laying the foundation for changes that have been widely unpopular when proposed in the past.
“The same proposals have surfaced several times and have been unable to find political support due to public objections,” he says. “It’s a quid pro quota. We need to stand up for democracy and stand up for the sustainability of our fishery.”
New Zealand Sport Fishing Council president Bob Gutsell is more direct.
“This is a direct attack on the ability of Kiwis to catch seafood for their family and friends,” he says. “The Bill is lacking specifics, which leaves the reader to assume the detail will be revealed from behind closed doors when the Bill is passed.”
LegaSea and other opponents want to see the legislation split to remove these contentious new proposals, but leave the rest of the Bill intact. They are also calling for people to make their feelings heard, even though public submissions officially closed last month.
“We are continuing to collect people’s thoughts on this secretive legislation that has hidden its true consequences behind complex, technical language,” Woolford says.