October 7, 2016

The entertaining television series Cray Fishers has highlighted the rewards and risks of the southern rock lobster fishery.

 It has also demonstrated just how successful the Quota Management System has been in rebuilding and conserving stocks.

 That flies in the face of a recent Listener magazine editorial that set new lows for breathless, ignorant blather in yet another attack on a seafood industry that instead should be celebrated for its contribution to our economy and enviable standard of living.

 The thrust of the Listener huffing, possibly written by an over-eager intern when veteran editor Pamela Stirling was on a day off, was that the claim our QMS is a world leader “has now been exposed as a colossal piece of hollow PR puffery”.

  The spurious reasoning was the furore over discarding from several inshore vessels revealed in the Heron report proved the QMS was a crock.

  Keyboard interviewers are, of course, entitled to their opinions but they’re not entitled to their own “facts”.

  Here are some.

  The southern rock lobster fishery, designated the CRA8 quota management area, takes in Fiordland and is a prime example of highly effective self-management.

  New Zealand has seen two cray booms characterised by dramatic overfishing of virgin stocks followed by stock collapse.

  The first was in Fiordland in the 1950s, the second in the Chathams in the 1960s, both based on exporting frozen tails to the US.

  Catches in the Fiordland fishery peaked in excess of 3500 tonnes in 1956.

  Rock lobster entered the QMS in 1990 when there were as many as 180 vessels in the southern fishery.

  The CRA8 Management Committee was formed in 1996 on the back of continuing concerns about overfishing.

  It oversaw the development of a management strategy that was accepted by the Minister at the time. The implementation of this decision rule resulted in cuts in quota from 888 tonnes in 1998 down to 567 tonnes in 2001.

   These were really tough decisions that saw the number of vessels drop to around 67 and a number of lifelong fishermen forced out of the industry.

  But the effect on the fishery was dramatic, not only arresting the decline but turning it around.

  This led to the first of a number of increases in the Total Allowable Commercial Catch in 2004 and the fishery has rebuilt to the extent the current CRA8 quota is a conservative 962 tonnes, one third of the national production.

  While the TACC is almost double that of 2001, the number of vessels is similar. 

  Today, 97 percent of lobsters from CRA8 are exported live, with China by far the biggest market. 

   Rock lobster has grown to a $300 million export industry, by far our most lucrative species.

  In CRA8 the focus today is on maximum economic yield, through a very high biomass which provides the fishermen with the opportunity to decide when and where they go fishing and what grades to land to meet market demands.

  That demand is for lobsters from the minimum legal size up to 1.5kgs.

  “This means almost all of the large, mature lobsters are returned to the sea,” according to CRA8 chief executive officer Malcolm Lawson.

   “This has resulted in a very high breeding biomass.

   “That is also good news for other stakeholders as recreational fishers favour the large lobsters and other parts of society just like to know that the population is in good heart.”

   The organisation has invested heavily in science and was also at the forefront of the formation of the Fiordland Marine Guardians and Fiordland Coastal Clean-Up.

   The close monitoring of stocks that the QMS encourages means that quotas are also reduced in some years.

   That has occurred in CRA4 based on the Wairarapa and Wellington coasts where operators have agreed to a 15 percent cut this season.

   “It is not in our interests to deplete the resource to unsustainable levels,” Wairarapa-based operator Richard Kibblewhite said. 

“We base every decision on hard science, we are not just standing on a boat taking a guess.”

He likened the fishery to a farm – one year there might be more growth, another a drought.

  Similarly, paua divers at the top of the South Island, have agreed to a significant harvest cut to preserve their fishery.

  The TACC in PAUA7 has been halved, from 187 to 93 tonnes.

  Such management decisions, some with considerable economic impact, are evidence of responsible fisheries management.

  Far from confirming the QMS is broken, they demonstrate the exact opposite.

- Tim Pankhurst