The focus this week is on far reaching fisheries management reform proposals.

Submissions close on Sunday on the Fisheries New Zealand discussion paper Your fisheries – your say.

Feedback is sought on four main areas of reform, with the most significant being around landings and returns to the sea.

Pretty much everyone agrees the current rules are muddled, illogical, open to interpretation and difficult to apply and police.

The status quo is not tenable, but a solution is far from clear cut.

Industry submissions will be covered in next week’s Update.

The proposals were developed without reference to the industry and it is essential that there is consultation with stakeholders on legislation to be introduced later this year to accommodate the changes.

We need to get this right.

However, an innovative fisheries management plan approved last week with little fanfare could also prove to be far reaching.

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash has backed a paua industry initiative on the Chatham Islands that includes the whole community.

“I support your efforts to develop a collaborative and effective management plan with iwi, imi, quota holders, locally engaged stakeholders and the Chatham Islands community to restore and maintain the sustainability of the paua fishery,” Nash wrote.

“It is my view that the plan is beneficial in providing more responsive, localised management of the resource, increased stakeholder commitment to management decisions and a more transparent operating environment.”

Under the Chatham Islands Paua (PAU4) Fisheries Plan, the traditional top-down management policy towards fisheries has been turned on its head in favour of building up from a small-scale approach.

The plan received 100 percent endorsement in the public consultation process, an unheard of result in this country’s fractious fisheries debates.

The Chathams, designated PAU4, is the country’s most productive paua fishery where nearly a third of the Total Allowable Commercial Catch of 919 tonnes is harvested.

The fishery had never had a stock assessment until last year.

Despite having the country’s best catch rate and very low recreational and poaching pressure, divers felt some parts of the fishery were showing some signs of stress.

That has prompted a dramatic 40 percent shelving of the total catch, now in its second year.

That is a substantial economic hit, but quota holders are taking the long view, that it is better to act voluntarily now rather than be forced to make cuts later that could take years to recover from.

An Annual Operating Plan will be produced that will operationalise and implement the overarching Fisheries Plan.

That will include agreement on the annual harvest, restrictions on fishing effort in particular areas, variable minimum harvest sizes and rules, and enhancement of local paua populations through a mix of reseeding, establishment of spawning populations of adults and re seeding of juveniles depending which is appropriate for an area.

Data loggers will continue to be used for all paua gathering. This work should be enhanced by the roll out of Electronic Reporting and GPR initiatives from Fisheries NZ.

The loggers are small electronic units attached to divers’ wetsuits that record effort – number of dives, number and weight of paua taken, location, depth and water temperature.

Paua Industry Council chair Stormalong Stanley sees the Chathams plan as an encouraging precedent for other fisheries where suitable.

“It’s been a long time coming but this is just the beginning of a better approach to managing paua fisheries,” he said.

“We will now look to extend this successful concept, with Marlborough and Kaikoura/Canterbury the likely initial focus.

“We will work with iwi and local communities in these areas to develop plans that consolidate the strong sense of industry and wider community responsibility for the wise stewardship and management of the paua fisheries.

“This is paua to the people in action.”