12 Sep 2022

New catch limits proposed for recreational fishers in Fiordland

8:22 am on 12 September 2022
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File photo. Photo: 123RF

Recreational fishers in Fiordland are being encouraged to fish for a feed, not the freezer under proposed rule changes.

Fisheries New Zealand is consulting on potential amendments to the Amateur Fishing Regulations in the Fiordland Marine Area.

They include proposals to reduce the combined daily finfish bag limit from 30 to 10 per day, a ban on taking scallops and hāpuku, and introduce a daily combined bag limit for shellfish of 150.

But some local fishers are concerned the rules are over the top and some of them are unnecessary.

Central Otago resident Adam Kite usually fishes in Fiordland three to four times a year.

He agreed with some of the changes, saying shellfish population was in a poor state and needed help, but other proposals including crayfish limits were unnecessary.

He usually brought out about 15 crayfish to share among his family.

"After I feed my grandparents and my uncles and so forth, there's none left for the freezer. If they reduce the limit, what they're doing is stopping people from having a feed, especially the elderly people who can't get in there and relying on people like myself to get some for them."

He was worried the some of proposed changes might stick around longer than necessary.

"When I went to the submissions, I said to them 'when a fishery is healthy like crayfish, will we not be increasing the limit?' They said no so I've got concerns that they're going to reduce these limits to let the fish stock build back up.

"But then they're never going to increase them again. They just seem to want to take and take and never giving them back."

DiveSouth fishing and diving club president Barry Bethune said some of the proposed rules went too far.

He agreed some things needed to change, but dropping bag limits across the board wasn't one of them - including the current albacore daily limit of 30.

"They're talking about the albacore tuna back to three per person with no accumulation. The southern blue fin tuna that's already set at one per person per day, that stays the same.

"Most of us we'd only do one trip in there but with the limits coming right back, it's sort of hardly worth it."

He's based in Invercargill, and said it took four hours to tow a boat to Milford Sound from Invercargill.

With a high cost, an often fickle weather window, and potentially more restrictions on the horizon, he said it would discourage some from heading out.

"If there was a problem in there, Fisheries New Zealand would know about it because of the commercial (fishing operations) have data and I just don't think the proposals that the Guardians are putting forward are realistic and they will severely restrict how many fishermen go in there, recreational fishermen."

The Fiordland Marine Guardians are pushing for changes to the current rules with a focus on fishing for a feed, not the freezer.

Fiordland Marine Guardians say the area they represent is now teeming with boats in areas which were previously considered isolated.

The Fiordland Marine Guardians at work. Photo: Supplied / Gavin Tayles

They submitted their proposal to Minister for Oceans and Fisheries, David Parker, last November with the current consultation focusing on the changes to the amateur fishing rules and regulations.

Its chairperson Rebecca McLeod said the proposals were aimed to reduce the pressure on fish stocks, especially as the number of fishers in the area has increased in recent years and more are expected in the future.

"We don't think that Fiordland is a place that people should be going to fill their freezers. It's just not a place that can sustain that level of fishing pressure, particularly inside the sheltered waters of the fiords.

"We're hoping that this will lead the way in Aotearoa New Zealand in terms of resetting the way that people think about how they approach recreational fisheries in a sustainable manner."

Public meetings have been held across Otago and Southland in recent weeks to discuss the proposals and for people to give their feedback.

McLeod said some clear themes emerged including people questioning why changes were being made to rock lobster limits when the fishery was healthy.

"We've been trying to align the bag limits that we're proposing with the philosophy of fishing for a feed and so we're proposing a reduction to the amount of crayfish that somebody could leave the Fiordland Marine Area with.

"We might be a bit soon with that proposal. It seems that people just can't quite get their heads around why we would go ahead and try to restrict ahead the take of a fish stock when it's in really good health."

Without good monitoring data, she said they were flying blind with little information about how many fish were in different areas and how many were being taken.

She hoped this would be addressed by recreational fishers reporting their catch.

It was vital for the Guardians listen to the community feedback and reassess their proposal, she said.

"We need to have a really high level of public engagement and buy in to this proposal if it's to be successful. Fiordland is a really vast area, compliance is a really challenging thing and so if we're to make changes that will improve the sustainability of these fisheries, we need to make sure that everybody that fishes in that place understands why those changes are needed and buys in to the concept.

She acknowledged fishers' concerns that bag limits might stick around after fish stock recover.

"We have every intention of not just sort of changing the regulations and leaving them. Our intentions is to continue to review fishery sustainability over time and we're hoping that with the number of changes to fisheries policy and procedure that we'll be in a much better place to be more nimble in our management in the future.

"That may well include increasing access to certain stocks if and when they rebuild."

Public consultation closes at the end of the month.

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