OPINION: There has been a lot of talk on commercial fishing issues over the last 12 months but much of it has overlooked probably the biggest reforms ever seen in New Zealand’s history.
This year we are going to see world-leading technology rolled out onto every commercial fishing vessel in the country, starting with vessel monitoring (similar to GPS) and electronic reporting from October 1.
This will be followed by cameras on every vessel beginning on October 1 next year, giving us arguably the most transparent and open commercial fishery anywhere in the world.
It will mean every fishing vessel can be monitored at all times, no matter where they are, and any illegal activity cracked down upon.
Commercial fishers have taken some public criticism over the last year and some of it has been deserved. Public expectations are rising and the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) as the regulator will soon have unprecedented ability to monitor every fishing vessel, no matter where they are at sea.
But at the same time the industry deserves credit for accepting these changes. Commercial fishers are hard working and most want to do what’s right to ensure fish stocks remain at sustainable levels.
At the same time, the biggest reforms to fishing laws in a generation are also underway.
The Future of Fisheries review was launched last year with a range of ideas on how to maximise value from our fisheries, improve scientific information and deliver better decision making.
Included in this is a proposed law change to allow new fishing technologies, like high-tech nets that can select fish by size and species. The environmental and economic benefits from this are huge.
One of the main developers of this technology is the Precision Seafood Harvesting project, jointly funded by industry and Government through the Primary Growth Partnership. This is a brilliant example of kiwi ingenuity and again will be world-leading.
Another great example is the trawl net technology designed by Hawke’s Bay fisherman Karl Warr, who is off to the United States after being named a finalist for the international Seafood Champion Award for Innovation.
Recently I helped launch a new book on the history of the orange roughy fishery which tells a remarkable story of how this stock has recovered, and is a great example of how our fisheries system works to protect sustainability.
In the 1980s and 1990s there was a complete gold-rush on this relatively new fishery and it was decimated. Since then it has been carefully rebuilt by industry and successive Governments with the help of scientific research and technology.
Such has been the recovery of this fishery that it has now been given the tick of approval by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). To have this recognition of sustainability by an independent, international body is a great achievement.
It reflects the fact we spend about $22 million every year on scientific research into our fisheries which helps make careful decisions around setting fishing limits.
And in general, it works – over 96 per cent of fish caught in New Zealand waters is from stocks at or above their target level. This is why our fisheries system has been recognised around the world as one of the best, and the changes we’re bringing in will mean it continues to improve.
Finally, we are also putting an increasing focus on recreational fishing, recognising how important this is to New Zealanders. There are around 700,0000 recreational fishers who contribute around $946m to the wider economy.
MPI now has a dedicated recreational fishing team, and we are committed to bringing in recreational fishing parks in Marlborough Sounds and the Hauraki Gulf.
This reflects that our fisheries are a shared resource and one we all have a part to play in looking after.
Nathan Guy is MInister of Primary Industries.