Re-thinking fishing in NZ

On 3 this afternoon they are showing:′

You can watch it anytime on youtube at:

It is brilliant. I detest the overblown Climate Change narrative as so many things can be dealt with effectively at a nation level. I got to write the text below for the Gisborne Herald and had a good piece published by Stuff. I live in the Bay of Islands and this just sort of happens:

Please just help and LegaSea ( is the best to help through – tell them I sent you. This is what I wrote ….

A few years back my wife, and I were in Japan. Halfway through a morning the kids were hungry and I suggested an apple. They took off around the supermarket and came back with two monsters — one an apple, the other a kiwi. Like many New Zealanders, our family was discovering the difference between the produce we export and that we get to eat at home.

Economic modelling provides sound reasoning for this; people overseas are prepared to pay more and this earns foreign income that can then be spent on the imports we like to have. Few of us consider, on a daily basis, that we have little or no access to the best of our land and oceans. It can be done differently.

I love fishing, mainly land-based. Technically I am not very good but it is nice once a week to have fresh snapper, kahawai, squid or trevally. I have to admit — whether fishing in the Bay of Islands or Auckland — that I have never caught my limit. I have often scoffed at the “back in the day” stories of plenty. I have always listened with re-assurance to statements that ’s quota management system was “world class”. A recent documentary based on the New Zealand scene called The Price of Fish has caused me to think a bit harder and do some research. Now that I have grandchildren, thinking about their future is part of it.

Estimates have that in 1850 the biomass of snapper in the Hauraki Gulf was at 270,000 tonnes. By 2000 the best estimate was 45,000 tonnes — a mere 16 percent of the long-term natural level. Of ’s 160 recognised stocks, 29 are “below sustainable”. Digging deeper, it is even worse than that sounds. For our stocks sets what they call “soft” and “hard limits”. Typically the soft limit is only 20 percent of what was there back in the day — but drastic action is only taken when the stock dives below the “hard limit”, normally 10 percent.

Are New Zealanders truly satisfied that we are being good stewards of our oceans and providing for a long-term thriving future (not just barely sustainable) when the authorities regard 20 percent of stocks as being OK? Estimates have it that worldwide we are 5th out of 28 for healthy fish stocks. Context is that 33 percent of world fisheries are either overfished or in collapse; plus, you don’t get medals for 5th.

I recently heard it said that if you could see under the ocean in the same way we can see our forests then New Zealanders would truly understand the level of degradation. Thirty-two percent of our nation’s total land area is protected in some form (eg National Parks, reserves). In terms of our 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (that is, our ocean) just 0.31 percent is in marine reserve.

As an educator, the main reason for being in the Bay of Islands is to bring school groups and families to this wonderful place. It is the history, the geography, it is the ocean . . . swimming, kayaking, cruising and fishing! It is already a tradition that on a Thursday night I take school groups from Bay Light fishing off the Russell wharf. They catch bait-fish, squid, kahawai, an occasional snapper and watch the stingrays, sporadic sharks and even the odd seal. They marvel at the thousands of small fish flashing around. For many of these it is their first time fishing and it is not unusual for them to tell us that it has been the “best day of their lives”. We also talk about, not just preserving, but how to improve our nation.

We are overfishing our oceans and there is no doubt some of the methods are degrading the sea floor. About one-third of the snapper catch is recreational, so it is not just the commercial approach that needs to be re-thought.

The Price of Fish documentary and other work by people like Mike Bhana and the LegaSea organisation have convinced me to take this much more seriously. The fish in our oceans belong, first and foremost, to the people of New Zealand. We need to begin to challenge the low-set goals and plan for a long-term future of getting our stocks much closer to historic levels, and our seafloors being pristine.

Back to the apple and my found in Japan. Ninety percent of our commercial fish catch gets exported. In our supermarkets we pay extraordinary prices for the remains. Over time we need a social buy-back scheme of quota that can support smaller, local commercial fishing and sell exclusively into our shops and supermarkets. One-third of the catch sounds like a good target to me, and the improvement in wellbeing for our people would be significant.

It is time to act. Our oceans ought to be teeming with life. Make a start. Watch the documentary, join LegaSea, write to Hon. David Parker as the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries, catch a feed — not the limit — and agitate for change to our commercial system, out of fairness to New Zealanders.

■ Alwyn is the co-founder of Bay Light Exploration Centre ( and the academic adviser for Villa Education Trust.

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