Current fisheries management reform proposals are the most significant in a generation.

The Quota Management System (QMS) has served the fishery well but it has become increasingly obvious it is not the complete fix.

Every system can be improved and after 33 years the QMS is no exception, although there have been a number of changes along the way.

The industry has been arguing for years that discards, deemed values and penalties in particular all need review.

Now, after much foofing around, these contentious areas are being at least partially tackled.

A newly released Fisheries New Zealand discussion paper, Your fisheries – your say, admits the current rules around landings and returning catch to the sea are “complex, open to interpretation, can be difficult for fishers to comply with and for FNZ to monitor”.

Offences and penalties are out of kilter too, with extreme sanctions including loss of vessel and quota for minor indiscretions.

Feedback, ahead of any legislative changes later this year, is sought on four main areas of reform:

  • amending the rules for what fish must be brought back to port and what fish can be returned to the sea, including options to tighten the rules so fewer fish are returned to the sea, or increasing flexibility so that more can be returned
  • reviewing the offences and penalties regime to ensure it’s fair and effective
  • streamlining and updating the ministerial decision-making process for setting catch limits
  • technical changes to the Fisheries Act

This next phase of fisheries management reform follows the introduction of electronic reporting of commercial catches and of vessel positions.

The first commercial vessels switched from paper-based to electronic reporting in 2017 and this is being rolled out across the entire fleet this year.

Recreational fishing, said to be enjoyed by as many as one million New Zealanders each year, is not part of the review and catches will remain unrecorded.

“A recreational minimum legal size limit, in combination with a daily bag limit, is the most effective and sustainable way to control a recreational catch allowance,” according to Nash.

That is even though we do not know what that catch is, although in the popular Hauraki Gulf snapper fish the recreational catch is thought to at least equal the commercial take.

Charter businesses, too, will escape wider scrutiny.

On board cameras remain on the agenda but Nash has taken the sensible view, despite the hysteria from the anti-commercial fishing lobby, that any application needs to be fit for purpose and developed with adequate engagement.

“There is a process to follow before on-board cameras can be considered and I need to first ensure the regulations are practical to implement, the technology is operationally ready to go, the systems are in place, and the fisheries management framework is clearly understood,” he said.

Public meetings on the discussion paper were held in Whangarei, Auckland and Tauranga this week.

It’s Nelson’s turn on Monday, Christchurch the following day, New Plymouth on Wednesday and Wellington on Thursday.

The consultation round concludes the following week with Dunedin (26th), Napier (27th) and Invercargill on the 28th.

The timeframe is tight – submissions close on March 17 - and there is a marked lack of detail and no analysis.

The Seafood Promise roadshow, updating on current issues including the proposed reforms and industry reputation, is also connecting with industry - in Tauranga yesterday and in Auckland today at noon at Sanford.

Change is in the wind and it is up to the industry to engage and shape that.