It’s official - charter boats are making huge catches of popular New Zealand species.

The number of declared snapper caught from charter boats in the year to October 2016 was 159,000, according to Ministry for Primary Industries figures.

The vast majority of those – 149,000 – were caught in Fisheries Management Area 1 centred on the Hauraki Gulf that extends on the east coast from North Cape  to Cape Runaway.

The total snapper take was estimated at 110 tonnes.

The catch from the literally thousands of recreational boaties on the water off Auckland is in additional to that and goes unrecorded.

That is not a situation that can continue without major disruption, according to Dr Randall Bess, a research fellow at the New Zealand Initiative, a public policy think tank.

The basics of fisheries management are simple: set a total allowable catch (TAC) that maintains fish stock sustainability, allocate the TAC across fishing sectors and set enforceable rules that keep each sector to its allocation, he said.

But recreational fishing rules fail to constrain catches to allocations and no reporting rules exist, Dr Bess’ report titled The Overseas Catch said.

‘Unless recreational fisheries management changes, fishers will face a steady decline in daily bag limits, increases in minimum legal sizes and shorter fishing seasons,” he wrote.

“The recreational fishing experience will worsen, as will conflicts between the recreational and commercial fishing sectors.

“Our research shows that success in integrating recreational fisheries into wider fisheries management processes is also dependent on improving data collected on recreational fishing.

“In general, recreational fishing interests hold the view that their fishing for food and fun should come at no cost, or no more than a nominal cost (in terms of licence or other fees). But fisheries management and fish stock enhancement is not costless. And any increased recreational share of the total catch may require compensating commercial quota holders. A well integrated system needs to find the right balance.”

Dr Bess studied four overseas fisheries – Gulf of Mexico red snapper, northern California red abalone, British Columbia halibut and the overall Western Australia fishery – and found a concerted focus on integrating recreational fisheries into policies and processes that is absent in this country.

His argument is that New Zealand fisheries are in pretty good shape compared with overseas countries but there are some areas of emerging concern, particularly around blue cod and crayfish.

He says there is a system in place for managing commercial fisheries with secure rights but the increasing demand for recreational fishing is bumping up against that.

That will lead to greater conflict between the sectors unless properly managed.

Charter vessel regulations were introduced in 2010 for some species.

Operators are required to register their boats and must file an Activity Catch Return detailing location, target species and catch numbers, fishing method and numbers fishing for every trip with paying clients.

This sector has become an increasingly significant player, with 260 vessels registered.

Blue cod was the second most popular charter catch with 124,000 fish recorded caught to October 2016.

The national rock lobster charter catch in the same period was 77,000, the majority being taken by 26 boats along the Kaikoura/Canterbury/Otago coast.

The bulk of kingfish were caught by the recreational sector, with 22,400 taken from charter boats.

Sea perch came in at 84,000 and oysters at 110,000.

Commercial fisheries are undergoing what Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has called the biggest reforms in the sector’s history.

These include vessel monitoring and electronic reporting ‘giving us arguably the most transparent and open commercial fishery anywhere in the world”, according to Mr Guy.

It is the recreational sector that is lagging in the better management of our shared fisheries.