New Zealand Fisheries: Most fish stocks in a healthy state!


I was recently sent this opinion piece by MPI Principal Fisheries Scientist Pamela Mace that was published in Yesterday’s (03 Apr 2013) Dominion Post (and online at stuff), with the message:

“Worthy of a post on your blog !”

It is… on so many fronts:

  • It responds to the Jay Harkness article that I responded to last week (Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Adequacy of spatial management re-emerging issue in New Zealand! Why?) and is therefore further indication that Jay Harkness was speaking out of turn;
  • It is a positive story, espousing light at the end of a tunnel that the (very vociferous) green sector in New Zealand work hard at keeping dark;
  • It acknowledges the work of the thousands of New Zealanders who get out there and get there hands dirty, working to ensure New Zealand’s fisheries are sustainably and responsibly managed; &
  • It instils confidence in the fisheries sector.
Up close with a Snapper (source:

Up close with a Snapper (source:

The Article

So the ‘good news’ opinion piece entitled most New Zealand fish stocks in a healthy state; started off  criticising the recent article by Jay Harkness, New Zealand Marine Reserves Too Small (published 26 Mar, 2013), stating somewhat unequivocally that contrary to the views of critics, New Zealand fish stocks are not in decline, said writes:

In A recent Dominion Post column (Marine reserves too small to serve their purpose, March 26), Jay Harkness, of Forest & Bird, claims “the overall number of fish in New Zealand waters is in steep decline”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, our largest fishery, hoki, is thriving. Both the eastern and western stocks of hoki have shown six consecutive years of increasing abundance and are approaching the upper end of the target range that fisheries managers aim to keep the stocks within. As a result, since 2009, the quota for hoki has been progressively increased from 90,000 metric tonnes to 130,000 metric tonnes. New information being analysed shows that both hoki stocks are continuing to grow even under the increased catch levels. (Most fish species are divided into several stocks, based on geographic areas for fisheries research and management purposes.)

It’s not only hoki stocks that are doing well. Orange-roughy stocks have also been increasing. Several have rebuilt and two have been reopened after several years of closureIn 2011, a new and substantial aggregation of orange roughy was discovered on the Chatham Rise. Southern blue whiting off Campbell Island is at a historic high. Research survey estimates for both gurnard and john dory off the West Coast in 2011 were the highest recorded over the period 1992-2011.

Elephantfish around the east coast of the South Island appear to have fully rebuilt and elephantfish around the south coast of the South Island have been increasing since the mid-1990s.”

For some it may be surprising to read that orange roughy stocks are also increasing. But a quick reference of the orange roughy chapter  from the Ministry for Primary Industries Fisheries Assessment Plenary Report definitely confirms Mace’s statement.

But then, this is not new news  – in a press statement given issued last June (22 Jun 2012) Pamela Mace highlighted findings of the 2012 Fisheries Assessment Plenary report with respect to orange roughy:

These annual reports, providing scientific information about fish populations and the impacts of fishing, are a key tool for managing fisheries. The reports are publicly available, so anyone can see what the science is showing about New Zealand’s fish stocks.  The report released this week include a new and substantial group of orange roughy on the Chatham Rise [which] has led to an upward revision of the status of this stock.”

The Dominion Post opinion piece continues with a qualifier:

However, not all stocks are in an increasing phase.”

Too many people forget that fisheries management involves managing a living resource that is uncountable, inaccessible, free to come and go as it pleases and susceptible to a million and three physical, chemical, geographical and biological factors… Thank goodness Pamela provides the caveat:

“Fish stocks fluctuate naturally even in the absence of fishing.

The business of managing fisheries is not easy. In New Zealand it is conducted according the the Quota Management System (QMS), where fishermen possess (in perpetuity) individual transferable fishing quota (ITQ). In New Zealand this ITQ is a share of the annual total allowable commercial catch (TACC). This approach enables fisheries managers to manage fish stocks from a sustainability platform, rather than by input controls. And as the story by Pamela Mace demonstrates, when the science is right, the QMS is a remarkably effective fisheries management method indeed.

“The status of these fish stocks is determined through a rigorous, transparent science working-group process with open participation by technical experts, stakeholders and any other interested parties, including environmental organisations.

Of the stocks of known status in 2012, 83.2 per cent were described as not overfished. These represented 96.6 per cent by weight of the fish brought to shore. For stocks considered to be overfished, corrective management action has been or is being put in place to rebuild them. For example, bluenose stocks were identified as being in need of rebuilding in May 2008, and quotas were subsequently reduced later in 2008, with further reductions in 2012.

With regard to the Mace article, one of the readers’ comments at the bottom by Gaylene Middleton (on caught my attention:

“This article is clearly based on research and well documented figures. I liked reading a positive article, as it made me feel hopeful and encouraged to keep on with the little efforts I make. Bad news stories make me feel hopeless, and discourage effort. With children, when good behaviour is noticed bad behaviour disappears. Perhaps news needs to try an experiment and give us good news and see what happens.”   



4 thoughts on “New Zealand Fisheries: Most fish stocks in a healthy state!

  1. Pingback: New Zealand Fisheries: Healthy stock status should mean healthier TACC’s right? | Green Fish Blue Fish

  2. Pingback: Multiple Users: Can Fishing & Deep-sea phosphate Mining that spatially coincide, co-exist? | Green Fish Blue Fish

  3. Pingback: Marine Reserves: Extending New Zealand’s Marine Reserves for the purpose of fish stocks protection is misguided! | Green Fish Blue Fish

  4. Pingback: Fisheries Management: A significant decrease in F is heralding higher abundance. | Green Fish Blue Fish

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