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Social, Cultural Well-being Eyed For Setting Of Kahawai Quotas

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Feb 12 NZPA - Continued reliance on previous catch histories in dividing up the sustainable levels of kahawai between commercial, recreational and Maori customary fishers may put the non-commercial fishery into a "death spiral", the Supreme Court was told today.

Alan Galbraith, QC, counsel for the NZ Recreational Fishing Council and the NZ Big Game Fishing Council, told the court they wanted the total allowable commercial catch (TACC) provided for trawling companies to be reduced below the level of the quota-holders' previous catch histories.

Fisheries Ministry reliance on catch history denied the potential for a species such as kahawai to become mainly a "recreational" fish stock, or available only as a bycatch to commercial fishers, he said.

When a fisheries minister reduced the total amount of fish allowed to be caught, recreational anglers using rods and lines were constrained in catching all the fish set aside for them, but commercial companies using high-tech equipment could effectively net their full quotas.

When the respective catch histories were then evaluated in the setting of the next year's TACC, there was potential for recreational fishers to be disadvantaged, he said.

"You're probably going to be in a death spiral for the customary and recreational fishers - that can't be right."

The recreational fishing groups initiated the landmark court case in 2005, the year after kahawai was brought into the quota management system.

They are now are seeking a declaration from the nation's highest court with a view to obtaining a fair allocation in "shared fisheries", where commercial trawlers compete for the same species, such as snapper, blue cod, kingfish, paua, and rock lobster .

The non-commercial fishers said that their allocation should allow for the social, economic, and cultural well-being of recreational and Maori anglers, not just as factors to be considered, but as objectives once a sustainable total allowable catch (TAC) had been set.

Mr Galbraith said a study in South Australia showed recreational fishers valued the species they caught at 11 to 16 times the value estimated for the same species by commercial fishers.

The non-commercial fishers want the Supreme Court to uphold the judgment of the High Court over that of the Court of Appeal, Mr Galbraith said.

The High Court ruled in 2007 that decisions on the total allowable catch for kahawai should be re-considered, to take into account social, economic and cultural well-being of Maori and recreational anglers.

But the appeal court last year substituted a direction that the next allocations should take account of recreational bag catch limits for recreational anglers.

Solicitor-General David Collins, QC, representing the Fisheries Minister and his chief executive told the court that with the new fishing season set to start on October 1, any major changes would need to be signalled by May.

He said the Government was not "ruthlessly bound" by catch histories, and agreed with the recreational fishers on some issues.

Questioned by Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias about perceptions that some catch histories might be wildly inaccurate, Mr Collins said even inaccurate information might be preferable to anecdotal data from other sources.

"All the minister can do is make a reasonable, conscientious decision based on the best information available," he said.

"It is conceivable that there could be an interest which doesn't get recognised ... the interest isn't necessarily going to be reflected in an allocation."

Bruce Scott, counsel for the two main holders of kahawai quota, Sanford Ltd and Sealord Group Ltd, argued the Fisheries Minister had proper regard to recreational interests when he set the total allowable catch (TAC). This had reduced 25 percent over two years to ensure a lift in biomass, which was what recreational fishers wanted.

Similarly the minister had broad discretion to divvy-up the TAC between sectors, including his allocation of total allowable commercial catch (TACC) to be divided among quota-holders, and had properly considered recreational anglers.

Recreational anglers had no priority or preference based on any common law "right" for the public to fish.

The court reserved its decision.

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