Changes in reporting for inshore fishing boats with cameras

There is some confusion about the change in these numbers because of the way the data was reported. I made this graphic to also clear up that as of April 2024 there is no data that has been made public from the on-board cameras for commercial fishing vessels programme.

Data sources: Overview of the rollout of on-board cameras on commercial fishing vessels February 2024 Update at 1 April 2024: Progress on the rollout

Record oystercatcher chick at Tahuna Torea

This summer Tōrea pango / Variable Oystercatcher have nested for the first time at Tahuna Torea Nature Reserve (written records began in the 1970’s). Its also the first time any bird has nested on the man-made shorebird roosts (or islands) in the lagoon. Tōrea Pango are recovering from being threatened with extinction and are one of the most endangered breeding birds in the Eastern Songbird Project area. The nearest breeding area is Motukorea / Browns Island which is a population sink for the species. The reserves name ‘torea’ does not come from this species but the South Island Pied Oystercatcher which once gathered here in great numbers.

The two egg nest was laid days after I trimmed the vegetation on Kuaka Island mid November 2023 as part of a roost restoration project. A team of local bird watchers kept a close eye on the nest. The mud in the lagoon keeps the cats out, but not the rats, the trapping team stepped up efforts and rats stopped turning up on the trail camera. One of the eggs was not fertile but the other one was and the bird watching team was thrilled when a chick hatched just in time for Christmas.

Tōrea Pango Chick on Kuaka Island. Photo by Shaun Lee.

The nest would not likely have survived a kiteboarding event in the lagoon. Thanks to the kiteboarders for volunteering to stop kiting in the lagoon at high tide. If you do see anyone kiting in the lagoon phone me 021 555 425 and I’ll have a chat to them.

Tōrea pango whanau at Cable Beacon Point. Photo by Basil Avery.

It was interesting that after nesting on Kuaka Island where I had trimmed vegetation and where a small amount of mangroves have been removed (not the majority) the parents then took the chick 400 m southeast to Cable Beacon Point. New mangrove stumps here were used by the chick to hide. I put up a sign and the bird watchers were on high alert for a few weeks until the chick fledged. The Tōrea pango whanau have stayed in the area which is a great endorsement of the reserve from our feathered friends and a huge win for our shorebird habitat restoration efforts.

The fledged Tōrea pango chick. Photo by Shaun Lee.

The unmanaged fisheries of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park

In New Zealand, we have 75 fish populations that are supposed to be managed sustainably. The main way we do this is by setting limits on how many fish can be caught, known as the Total Allowable Catch (TAC). We don’t keep regular track of the fish caught by recreational and cultural fishers. The only annual numbers are for commercial fishing, which has a limit called the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC).

What’s puzzling is that for many fish populations, the TACC is set way higher than what’s actually being caught, and it’s been like that for years without any change. To me, this means these fish aren’t really being managed at all. Of the 75 in Aotearoa there are 16 fish populations in the Gulf that stand out as ‘unmanaged’ due to their TACC being significantly higher than the actual catches.

I had high hopes for the new Fisheries Management Plan for the Gulf, thinking it might sort out these unmanaged populations. I tried to get some answers by writing to the minister, and when that didn’t work, I filed an Official Information Act request. The reply came from Simon Lawrence at Fisheries New Zealand, but it wasn’t what I hoped for. They’re only planning to review four out of the 16 unmanaged populations this year – Flatfish, Rig, Blue cod, and Red cod. That leaves Pipi, Horse mussel, Paddle crab, Anchovy, Sprat, Pilchard, Jack mackerel, Pōrae, Leatherjacket, Trumpeter, Longfin eel and Spiny dogfish unmanaged. Four of these fish are at the bottom of the food web and are critical for the Gulf ecosystem function. Horse mussels are endemic (found only in New Zealand) and aggregations dense enough to be called beds are now extinct in the Gulf, Longfin eel are also endemic and going extinct.

So here we are, with a fisheries plan that talks a big game about moving towards an ‘ecosystem-based fisheries management‘ approach, but we’re not even effectively managing individual fish populations.

Anchovy Engraulis australis kokowhaawhaa
 Jack mackerel Trachurus declivis Trachurus novaezelandia Trachurus murphyi Haature
New Zealand pilchard Sardinops sagax Mohimohi
New Zealand sprat Sprattus muelleri Kupae
Smooth leatherjacket velvet leatherjacket Meuschenia scaber Kokiri
Trumpeter Latris lineata Kohikohi
Porae Nemadactylus douglasii Morwong
Spiny dogfish Squalus acanthias snow fillets Makohuarau Pioke
Longfin eel Anguilla dieffenbachii Tuna
paddle crab  Ovalipes catharus Pāpaka
horse mussel Atrina zelandica Hururoa
pipi  Paphies australis

Map of dog prohibited area at Tahuna Torea Nature Reserve

Map of dog prohibited area at Tahuna Torea Nature Reserve

Like many locals I regularly ask people to not walk their dog at Tahuna Torea Nature Reserve. Sometimes dog walkers push back and say they are allowed to walk their dogs on the beach or around the top of the track. To make it clear here is the wording from the Auckland Council website:

“Dogs are prohibited at all times in Tahuna Torea Nature Reserve. This covers all park areas and associated beach and foreshore areas from the public walkway between 24 and 26 Vista Cresent to its boundary on West Tamaki and Tahaki Roads.”

Here is a map to visually explain the area.

To map the “beach and foreshore areas”, I projected the boundaries perpendicular to the starting points on land, down to the low tide line. Mean Low Water Springs (MLWS) has been visually estimated.

Update March 2024

Roberta Reserve also excludes dogs on the foreshore and playground. There is an exemption for the area in the water of the stream mouth seaward side of the bridge on Roberta Reserve.

Submissions on the protections proposed by Revitalising the Gulf

I spent a few days going through the 7,550 submissions on protections proposed by Revitalising the Gulf. I’m estimating 77%-90% of the submissions were positive about the protection proposals. However huge numbers concerned about the continuation of bottom impact fishing outside the protected areas and cultural take inside them. So there is a general need for more protection. This level of public support for marine protection can be expected and can be seen in Polling from the Hauraki Gulf Form, Submissions on the recent Waiheke Marine Reserve Proposal and the Live Ocean Barometer 2023.

Most of the names were redacted from the submissions but the organisation names were left public. Here are the names of the organisations that made significant submissions.

2xs Charters / Balmain Boating Services
Alan Seasprite Charters
CRA 2 Rock Lobster Management Co
Dr Hook Charters
Fisheries Inshore NZ
Kina Industry Council
Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club
NZ Rock Lobster Industry Council
New Zealand Charter Boat Association
New Zealand Sport Fishing Council
Paua Industry Council
Princess Carol Charters
Provider Adventures Ltd
Sea Urchin NZ Ltd
Seahawk Fishing Charters
Slipper Island Residents Association
Snap Attack
Specialty & Emerging Fisheries Group
Tairua Adventures Ltd / Artisan Fishing Co
Te Ohu Kaimoana
Te Ra Charters
The New Zealand Angling & Casting Association
Whitianga / Coromandel Peninsula Commercial Fisherman’s Association
Aldermen Islands Marine Reserve Group
Friends of the Hauraki Gulf
Mama Fish
Sanford Limited
Forest & Bird
Revive Our Gulf
Auckland City Centre Residents Group
Auckland Conservation Board
Auckland Council
Auckland Sea Kayaks
Auckland Sea Shuttles
Coromandel Marine Farmers Association
Devonport Yacht Club
Environmental Defence Society
Foundation North
Friends of Taputeranga Marine Reserve Trust
Goat Island Dive and Snorkel
Good Fishing
Hahei Residents and Ratepayers Association
Leigh Penguin Project
Live Ocean Foundation
Meadowbank School Marine team
Motuora Restoration Society
Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust
New Zealand Conservation Authority
New Zealand Geographic
New Zealand Marine Sciences Society
Ngāti Hei
Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust
Ocean Voyages Inc
Pakiri Community Landcare Group
Pest Free Kaipātiki
Ports of Auckland Limited
Shakespear Open Sanctuary Society Inc
Sir Peter Blake MERC
Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi
Te Whanau o Pākiri
The Friends of Te Whanganui‐A‐Hei Marine Reserve Trust
The Glass Bottom Boat Whitianga
The Hauraki Gulf Conservation Trust
The Hauturu Supporters Trust
Tāmaki Estuary Protection Society
Tāwharanui Open Sanctuary Society Inc
Waiheke Marine Project
Waikato Regional Council
Wakatere Boating Club
Yachting New Zealand
Most of these submitters were upset about continued bottom impact fishing in the Gulf. Most of the Charter fishers all sent in the same submission. These submitters indicated support for marine protection but did not express that much support for the proposed measures: Most of these submitters wanted more protection than what was proposed and also wanted bottom impact fishing banned.

I have not published the names of many organisations who used the LegaSea form as those submissions contained dramatically less information than those from the above organisations. They were mostly small owner operator companies who are also keen fishers. The big Purse Sein operator Pelco NZ Ltd and Te Ahu wai o Tangaroa sustainable ecological aquaculture did make significant submissions but they did not speak to the protection proposal.

In response to the submissions the Department of Conservation has reduced the amount of protection. Submissions are now open on the Hauraki Gulf / Tīkapa Moana Marine Protection Bill.

P.S. These bottom impact fishing effort maps were made public by Fisheries Inshore NZ and are useful in considering the proposed ‘trawl corridoors’.

Submissions on the Hauraki Gulf Fisheries Management Plan

Over 10,000 submissions on the Hauraki Gulf Fisheries Management Plan are likely to be the largest data set of opinions on fisheries management in Aotearoa and definitely the largest in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

This copy is displayed when asking for public submissions:

Submissions are public information
Note that all, part, or a summary of your submission may be published on this website. Most often this happens when we issue a document that reviews the submissions received.

People can also ask for copies of submissions under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). The OIA says we must make the content of submissions available unless we have good reason for withholding it. Those reasons are detailed in sections 6 and 9 of the OIA.

If you think there are grounds to withhold specific information from publication, make this clear in your submission or contact us. Reasons may include that it discloses commercially sensitive or personal information. However, any decision MPI makes to withhold details can be reviewed by the Ombudsman, who may direct us to release it.

I’m disappointed that Fisheries New Zealand has not released all the submissions citing section 18(f) of the OIA—that the information requested cannot be made available without substantial collation or research.

I’m going to read over the submissions provided (which are substantial) before asking for more detail.

My request

FNZ response

Submissions Part 1

Submissions Part 2

Untangling the conservation and ethical dilemmas of big game fishing

Marlin hooked, fish feel pain

This summer many people asked me about a front page article on the New Zealand Herald about a large black marlin that was killed off the coast of Northland. They wanted to know what I thought about it because they knew I would disapprove. The article did not include other views on the anglers “monumental effort” which took 10 hours. People posted negative reactions to the article on Facebook calling it animal torture but there was a shortage of facts about conservation and moral concerns.

Is marlin fishing sustainable?

In Aotearoa New Zealand the fishery of marlin is 100% recreational since 1988. Billfish caught overseas should not be bought to eat because bycatch from this fishery is going extinct (whales & dolphins, sharks, seabirds and turtles). Our commercial catch of billfish is not targeted due to a Memorandum of Understanding Between Commercial & Recreational Fishing Interests October 1996. However there is a targeted commercial Swordfish fishery. Commercial landings have fallen dramatically over the last 10 years indicating a change in fish population, fishing methods or reporting, the former is most likely and concerning *. The 126 tonnes of landed in the most recent year represents more than 1,000 fish, more than the number of animals reported in the recreational tag and release programme. Other billfish like marlin are released whether the animal is alive or dead upon capture. Cameras on all commercial surface longline fishing boats would tell us how many of these animals are being released (alive or dead).

Commercial landings of swordfish in the Aotearoa / New Zealand EEZ

The population trend and conservation status of each species is assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is how they categorise the threat of extinction for all species on our planet.

How the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)categorise the threat of extinction for all species on our planet

Here is how our billfish populations are doing in 2023 with recent catch data from the tagging program.

Black marlin population trend
Striped marlin population trend
Swordfish population trend
Blue marlin population trend
Shortbill spearfish population trend
Note that catch from the 2019-2020 was impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic so I have used the previous years which is more indicative of average catch.

Most of the recreationally caught animals are striped marlin, although they are categorised as Least Concern, the population in the Southwest Pacific is overfished with an estimated decline of 25% between 2001 to 2016.

Aotearoa New Zealand participates in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to manage broadbill populations. This 26 member commission is slowly making progress towards sustaining the world’s biggest tuna fishery, but failing to manage bycatch including billfish. The commission meets just once a year to make decisions via consensus. Aotearoa New Zealand is responsible for a very small percentage of the fishery. We have the moral high ground and are well positioned to argue for changes to stop these species from going extinct.

While commercial billfish bycatch in Aotearoa New Zealand is unknown, recreational fishers both target and land billfish. Because our fisheries are recreational, reporting on how many billfish are caught is voluntary. The latest report on the tagging programme notes an increase in the number of boats and a probable increase in unreported catch. This needs to change and more information would help us with our questions about the conservation status of these species. Climate change will push billfish populations towards the poles, increasing catches in Aotearoa New Zealand and masking our ability to detect population decline here.

The sports fishing industry awards and celebrates the capture of the largest fish. Large old fish produce more eggs and sperm than younger fish. Female billfish are larger than males. This means the most productive members of the population are landed for records, trophies and prizes. A large blue marlin at a weigh-in station does not represent a gain of 500kgs of freezer meat, but a loss of millions of eggs which could have helped rebuild the population. The situation is just as important for our striped marlin which have lost 94% of their spawning biomass since 1960’s.

Marlin batch spawn in tropical waters.
Marlin batch spawn in tropical waters.

As our culture evolves fishing is becoming less about machismo and more about connecting with the environment. Recreational fishing industry leaders could do more to discourage fishing techniques that target species that are going extinct. They also need to find ways to land less big fish. It won’t be easy for them, change may take a generation. Is catch and release the solution?

Is catch and release helping conserve billfish in Aotearoa New Zealand?

About 800 of our billfish are caught, tagged and released every year. The tagging programme is voluntary for recreational and commercial fishers. On average only three of these are recaptured per year. The other 797 plastic tags (which cost $5 each) end up in the ocean. Some tags fall out, some sink to the bottom of the ocean with the exhausted fish.

Many billfish are released, all of them injured. The fish are vulnerable to shock, disease and predation.

Marlin released with or without tags are vulnerable to shock, disease and predation.
Marlin released with or without tags are vulnerable to shock, disease and predation.

Overseas studies have found survival is not great with one in seven released fish dying. Fishers gamble with the lives of these animals every time they put a hook in the water. The ‘catch and release’ practice makes a significant contribution to the sustainability of our share of the fishery – if its stopping those fish from being landed and killed. However it’s unquestionable that the fish would be better off without being caught at all.

The small number of recaptures have shown where our fish travel, but much more information could be gained by using satellite tags. Genetic sampling techniques are better conservation tools and have existed for more than five years.

With so little conservation value in the tagging programme, is it worth it?

Is catch and release humane?

Sportfishing is practiced by humans who primarily hunt for fun rather than food. It’s a blood sport where wild animals are stressed and wounded for the pleasure of the hunter. In 2003 scientists found that fish have the biology to perceive pain and demonstrate behaviours associated with pain. The science was controversial for more than a decade, but now seems settled and researchers have now moved on to what kind of painkillers to give fish in laboratory experiments.

Marlin hooked, fish feel pain
Marlin feel pain.

Billfish respond to a hook in the mouth, throat or guts by trying to move away from the source of the pain. Fishers call this the ‘fight’. The amount of fight a fish will put up to reduce its suffering is extended by international game fishing rules. These rules are endorsed with additions from Legasea / The New Zealand Sports Fishing Council. They encourage fishers to try and land game fish on lighter line classes. This is thought to give fish a “sporting chance” as heavier fish can more easily break lighter lines. This makes the fights (which the fisher instigates for their own enjoyment) longer, it’s not uncommon for fights to last hours. This is done at the expense of the fish. Longer fights prolong the suffering of billfish and increase the chances of post release mortality due to physiological stress.

The New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) opposes big game fishing for sport due to the prolonged pain, injury and distress on the fish involved. SPCA advocates for a ban on the use of “light tackle” to catch big game fish.

The New Zealand Animal Welfare Act 1999 recognises fish as sentient animals. The activity recklessly ill-treats animals (an offence under section 28 A) it also contravenes other sections of the act (30A1-3). There is a NAWAC guideline on how to deal with practices which are inconsistent with the spirit of the Animal Welfare Act. The guideline asks ‘Is the suffering necessary’? It is not necessary and undeniably inhumane.

There is enough conservation and moral evidence to take the precautionary approach and stop the sport today, but I think it should be phased out, like big game hunting overseas.

Big game fishing is being compared to (less socially unacceptable) big game hunting

What should we do?

Aotearoa New Zealand should show leadership by pushing for global population estimates using genetic tools. We need to do a better job of arguing for changes to international fisheries methods and quota. We can also show more leadership by mandating the reporting of caught billfish (both landed and released, commercial and recreational) and developing a Code of Welfare for sports fishing which will identify standards to prevent pain and distress.

* UPDATED APRIL 2024. Phil Clow (president of the Whitianga and Coromandel Peninsula Commercial Fisherman’s Association) pointed out that the drop in commercial swordfish catch is due to fishers targeting tuna instead. I looked into it and it does look like that accounts for 50% of the drop. Annotated graph below.