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Despite the howls of indignation by recreational fishing lobby groups– and the short, sharp rejection of new policy around recreational fishing by MPI – the paper by the New Zealand Initiative on the future of the recreational sector is an important one, and deserves public debate.

In the paper, The Future Catch: Preserving Recreational Fisheries for the Next Generation, the author Randall Bess makes a number of recommendations.

Amongst these are the development of a recreational fisheries policy, improving the information available on recreational fishing, and establishing a recreational fishing peak body.

 None of these recommendations are unreasonable – in fact all should be blindingly obvious. It is simply astonishing that we know next to nothing about how much fish is taken from our waters by recreational fishers. Without more information on our recreational fisheries a fair allocation of TAC is just guesswork.

 The idea of a recreational ‘licence’ to fund recreational fisheries management, whether through a fuel excise on boats or other means, is where the recreational lobby get really exercised.

 For generations, and now entrenched in the kiwi psyche, is that it is a New Zealander’s God-given right to ‘catch a feed for his family.’ It would be a brave government who took on the challenge. In election year you are more likely to stumble across a unicorn.

 Which is not to say the discussion should not progress.

 Randall Bess did not pull these recommendations out of thin air. They are based on similar models in countries such as the United States, Canada and Western Australia that have all adopted fisheries management that is inclusive of all sectors; commercial, recreational and customary. It is about an integrated, collective approach that requires cooperation between all sectors.

 The reluctance by government to implement robust management around recreational fisheries is short-sighted, politically self-serving and dangerous.

 With no real data on these fisheries the calamity of collapse is a very real possibility.

 There are an estimated 600,000 recreational fishers in New Zealand and another 100,000 tourists who fish our waters. Catch data supplied by charter boats alone gives some indication of the scale and effect of recreational fishing. According to MPI figures, the 144 charter vessels operating in FMA1 took some 110 tonnes of snapper in the year to October 2016. These are not insignificant numbers and it should be noted that snapper catch data is supplied voluntarily by charter vessels. The only species required by law to be reported are hapuka, bass, bluenose, blue cod, kingfish, rock lobster, southern Bluefin tuna, and pacific bluefin tuna.

 As over-used as the phrase ‘shared fishery’ is, that is exactly what it is. And shared management across all sectors is the only solution. That this will almost certainly come at a cost to recreational fishers may be a bitter pill to swallow but will simply bring New Zealand into line with most fisheries around the world.

 As Randall Bess points out, it is time to debate this now before tensions and conflicts worsen. He says the instigation of recreational fisheries management in Western Australia vastly improved public trust and confidence, despite restricted access to some fisheries and despite fishers having to pay a licence fee.

 And more importantly, competing fishing sectors had been incentivised to put aside their differences to collaborate and improve fisheries for the long term.

 Many, if not the majority, of commercial fishers are also reccies. They also like to catch a blue cod with their kids. Maybe, for recreational and commercial fishers, it is just as simple as walking a mile in each other’s shoes.

 A young woman whose family runs a recreational fishing shop in Blenheim, Tamzin Henderson, has done just that by experiencing commercial fishing first-hand - and her blog is attached below.

Click here to give it a read.

 Fishing sustainably and acting responsibly applies to us all.