Guest Post – Some real fishing facts from an expert

Mike Rendle knows a thing or two about fishing, he makes his living from fishing, writing books and making documentaries.

Last week he was at sea when the hit job on New Zealand’s fishing industry was launched. He’s now ashore and has written this on his Facebook page. I have permission to re-publish it.

This is an important piece to write because last week I found myself right in the centre of all the negative press the commercial fishing industry has been receiving, the leaked reports and attack on their credibility.

The reason I am prepared to write is because I sat with some of the biggest players in the industry and heard their side of things. And what I can tell you is, that when you hear both sides, it’s clear the coverage isn’t balanced and in many cases is incredibly unfair.

In fact, if you look at where the leaked reports and other information is emanating from you would logically draw the conclusion that this is a hit on the government by the Labour and Green parties, aided and abetted by an activist named Barbara Maas. (More on her later). You will also notice that the name Nigel Haworth is associated with many of the press reports. He is the Labour Party president. Personally I believe that this is a hit, however let’s call that unimportant at this stage; this is firstly, and most importantly, about the resource.

You all know I am an incredibly passionate recreational fisherman. I like to think that I have a balanced view to both conservation and harvest. My opinions aren’t always the same as those around me but they are always aimed at preserving and promoting the sport of fishing. And you know I have a history of calling a spade a spade.

I learnt two things last week; first, the biggest, most powerful players in the commercial fishing industry care about the resource, possibly even more than we do, and not just for financial reasons. Second, the industry is creating more jobs, more NZ investment and providing a growing contribution to the NZ tax take. A large part of that investment is in improving harvest methods, mitigation of bycatch, particularly mammals and birds, while making the job safer and more efficient.

Let me begin with some positives because the NZ commercial fishing industry should be celebrated as a success story, not pilloried for past excess and greed from times when we all knew no better.  

Here’s a starter; talk to anyone fishing out of Nelson this season. Rec fishers are catching great numbers of snapper of very good size within a few miles of the port. It used to be like that in the past until snapper were taken out commercially, in huge quantities, at a time prior to the implementation of the Quota Management System (QMS). At the moment the large quantity of snapper is a problem for commercial fishers; they have to avoid them. I’m sure it will be a fair thing to increase their allowable catch by a small amount in the near future, while the stock continues to be monitored, to reflect their contribution to the recovery. We can be sure that stock will never again be destroyed by overfishing, now just watch how many new boats and charter operators appear in the area over the coming few years; I bet the recreational industry can grow rapidly in parallel with the commercial one. This is a very happy story.

Here’s another. I had dinner last week with John Bennett, skipper of the San Aspiring. You will recognise his name because he was the one responsible for the capture of that huge squid from Antarctica, the one that was filmed for Gone Fishin and now lives in Te Papa. That story made headlines around the world. What hasn’t made headlines is that over the last fifteen years, across thousands of sea miles and hundreds of days of fishing, the San Aspiring under John has been responsible for the death of not a single bird. That’s none. Not one. In fact, John received a prestigious international award for his efforts in seabird conservation. Did you hear about that anywhere? Do the Greens, Labour and the other organisations with an agenda stand up and applaud the industry on their incredible efforts to all but eliminate mortality? Of course not.

One of the key industry players told me of an observer report he had just read from a returning boat. The observer stated that just one bird had landed on the boat and had safely been removed. The bird wasn’t hooked or otherwise damaged, it had just landed on the boat. That is the extent of the change, yet you won’t have been given that wonderful news.

Remember all the issues with sea lion deaths down south? Hear anything about that now? Of course not; that’s been sorted too. I visited a net manufacturer who showed me how the exclusion devices work. It was impressive. And that was just in one fishery. I saw how net technology is improving the way they eliminate bycatch and undersized fish across a range of species, from snapper to scampi. Some of it is as simple as the mesh design and it makes a HUGE difference.

Talking of technology, I learnt that items such as net sensors and cameras also add to the efficiency and protection of the environment. A good skipper can use technology to shorten their tow by putting the net in exactly the right place for a very short time period. That means less bycatch or damage.

Those are only some of the good news stories. Most have been long forgotten as things become the ‘norm’. A classic example of that would be how southern crayfishermen took a big hit to their pockets in the effort to turn that fishery completely around. And they have. Massively. They deserve the fruits of their work.

Just one final positive to add; the recent law change requiring boats to be NZ-flagged is also a great thing. Just ask any of the supporting businesses or those who have a job in the related industries. It is worth noting that not all NZ companies used foreign-flagged joint venture ships; those that didn’t should be commended. Those that did may not have done anything legally wrong but you can debate their ethics over the use of such vessels.

But no one is telling the positive story, instead the hits have been coming.

Last week saw the release of a report that pilloried the industry for taking in excess of the officially reported catch in the period from the 1950’s until now. That is misleading from the start; it no longer matters what happened in the period prior to 1986 – the date of the introduction of the Quota Management System. That’s history, irrelevant and another world ago in attitude and outlook. It is what has happened since that should interest us. The QMS has improved our understanding of fish populations, safe harvesting levels and gaining maximum value for the resource. It isn’t perfect yet but it’s getting pretty close to as perfect as something like this can be.

The key industry players know how to get it over that final hurdle but it seems successive governments haven’t really listened to their suggestions, particularly around discarded and undersized fish. My guess is that this one will be listening now after what happened last week.

Then there is the fallout from the leaked report dubbed ‘Operation Achilles’. Again there are two sides to this story. While the initial appearance is that the fishermen involved have acted illegally, they also appear to have some very good points to make; in particular they are frustrated that releasing fish, such as spawning elephant fish, is currently illegal. The chances are that some of the fishermen may have their day in court, and while that may give them a voice I’m just not so sure that civil disobedience is the way to effect change. At least in this country they are unlikely to be run over by a tank, although it may feel like it by the time the dust settles.

Because this is primarily a political hit there will undoubtedly be more information placed in the public domain, officially or otherwise.

But doing it this way isn’t right.

We all need to realise that the actions of those with agendas may cost the industry tens of millions of dollars and a huge number of jobs. An example is the attempt to turn McDonalds away from NZ hoki. Remember that hoki is a species that has no connection with the current issues and is certified by the International Marine Stewardship Council, which is as good as it gets for environmentally-friendly harvest. If these elements succeed, then they cost us all by reducing the tax take, destroying jobs and decreasing local spending.

If you think that these actions are the way to fix something that you believe is broken, then you live on a different planet to me. In my opinion some of the comment borders on treason. Freediver William Trubridge and the NZ Herald should hang their heads in shame for their appalling piece. Barbara Maas is now on record as knowing that the hoki fishery has no connection to the death of any dolphins, however she doesn’t care. The plan is to kick the industry at every opportunity regardless of the facts.

No one doubts that there are bad operators, any industry has them, but they are few and far between. Nor do industry deny that there are still issues to fix. They know there are, they know how to solve them, they just need support to do so.

This is not the time for recreational interests to stick it to commercial; if you want to do something then instead sell the positive message, which is the recently released value of the rec industry.

This is now the time to support industry as they fix the last few problems remaining around the quota management system. We all need to work together towards the common goal of more fish and less waste. Huge inroads have been made. Let’s be positive and complete the job for future sustainability and not dwell on the past.


-Mike Rendle, Facebook

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.