‘Misc and chips’ for dinner anyone?

1 September 2023

People in Auckland, Waikato and beyond face a shrinking choice of seafood options at supermarkets, fish and chip shops and restaurants under Hauraki Gulf commercial fishing bans proposed this week.

The reality of the bans is the loss of the nutritional benefits of wild-caught and abundant fish for many of those who cannot catch their own. For climate-change-conscious consumers, it could also seriously limit their options for choosing protein with a low-carbon footprint.

Seafood New Zealand’s preliminary analysis of the effects of the most extreme proposal – to ban Danish seine and trawl fishing from 87.3 per cent and 89 per cent of the Gulf respectively – is that there could be as much as 60% less fish available for Auckland’s domestic and retail markets.

Even the less-severe option – to ban seining and trawling from 74.1 per cent and 77.1 per cent of the Gulf – are enough to put some fishers out of business and deplete the fresh fish displays at your local retailer.

Effectively, abundant fish species like gurnard could become an at-risk meal for Kiwi families.

Here’s why.

The corridors proposed, where fishing will be allowed, will not allow for fishers to keep fishing year-round for a mix of species – of which approximately 50 per cent supplies the local Auckland market.

We are talking about small family-owned independent fishers here. They fish from small boats, carefully fitted with technology and nets designed to keep their carbon footprint and seafloor impact as light as possible.

If they can’t harvest a mix of species, such as John Dory, trevally and gurnard, fishing will be too expensive to continue. Boats will be tied up. Businesses will be sold. Jobs will be lost. And the range of healthy, locally-caught, low-carbon seafood options will plummet.

The Government acknowledges that transitioning to other methods like bottom long-lining is hugely expensive and comes with much higher operating costs. They also acknowledge collaborative work underway through the Industry Transformation Plan (ITP), to source and develop new fishing gear and methods to reduce impacts on the seabed. So, when so much is at stake, why not give the ITP a chance?

The regulatory barriers to fishing innovation also need to be corrected, urgently, to free up fishers to lead their own improvements in sustainability even more.

In our press release and substantial media commentary this week, Seafood New Zealand has asked that people seek the facts about trawling before they make their submissions.

And to understand that commercial fishers unequivocally support the need for a healthier Hauraki Gulf. Our hardworking fishers respect the mauri of the Gulf – it is their second home, their family history, their passion and their livelihood.

We expected the Government to propose new limits. We have been involved in Gulf planning and consultations for more than a decade, providing science, data and expertise to the Government.

But we have concerns about the extent to which fishing might be restricted and the impacts of this. We are concerned the balance of benefits to the Gulf, compared to the detriments to industry and consumers, is not right in any of the four proposals.

We are concerned that the many other pressures on the Gulf – run-off, pollution, and invasive species to name a few – are not being addressed at anywhere near the same speed as the crack-down on fishing. We challenge this thinking – sometimes the best route to restoration is not the easiest one and Kiwis shouldn’t settle for a shallow plan.

We know that many people simply have the wrong idea that trawling is indiscriminate and destroys the seabed. We know from consumer research that when people learn that most trawling happens on flat, sandy, or muddy seafloor, in existing fishing grounds, they feel more confident about choosing New Zealand wild-caught seafood.

Our hardworking Hauraki Gulf fishers are highly skilled and can fish very selectively.

We ask that anyone considering making a submission take the time to find the facts. Here are some of the basics, with video material and more on the Seafood New Zealand website.

  • Commercial fishing’s footprint is becoming progressively lighter, with some fleets half of what they were in the Gulf in 2022 compared to 2005
  • In the trawling areas, the scale of change can be less than the natural fluctuations from storms and significantly less than the impacts seen recently from cyclones
  • Inshore trawlers and Danish seiners operate with light nets over soft seabed sediment forms – sand, gravel, mud, shell – they don’t fish on rocky ground or reefs which contain fish they don’t want to catch and are more prone to damaging their nets
  • Fishers do not fish where they know juvenile fish are to be found
  • To reduce and avoid unwanted catch, net heights, mesh sizes and orientation has changed significantly over the last 10 years with many trawlers now using either 150mmT90 or on the square mesh and changing their net heights according to their target species.
  • Fisheries New Zealand knows at 10-minute intervals the position of all commercial vessels in the Gulf. Each fishing event must be recorded and reported within 8 hours, and any protected species interaction within 24 hours.

News and Research

From sea to me: A look at how our fish is caught | Stuff.co.nz
Getting to the bottom of trawling | Stuff.co.nz
Common misunderstandings and misinformation about trawling [PDF]
The Update: When science meets the bottom trawling debate
The Update: Bottom trawling and carbon – the facts at last  
Find trawling troubling? Take heart from the data
PSH: Taking successful sustainable fishing technology to the world