Fishermen are wondering if they, too, risk becoming an endangered species.

On top of the drastic set net and trawl bans proposed under the Maui and Hector’s dolphins threat management plan, two other current proposals have potentially huge impacts on the commercial sector.

One concerns tarakihi, the other paua.

Tarakihi (Nemadactylus macropterus) is a mainstay of the inshore fishery and one of the most popular table fish.

Ninety percent of the catch is sold to the local market.

The species is available for harvest year round and is caught along the entire east coast of both New Zealand’s main islands.

Fishermen report there are still plenty of tarakihi to be caught in some areas, but the science suggests otherwise.

The east coast fishery has been managed as four separate stocks since 1986 but is now assumed to be one stock.

The first full stock assessment in 2017-18 found the level of biomass was below 20 percent of the original unfished total.

It has been near this limit since 1975 and below 20 percent since the early 2000s.

Clearly, action was needed.

Industry proposed a 25 percent reduction in the commercial catch limit, which was supported by Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash and introduced on October 1 last year.

Nash challenged the industry to prepare an effective, robust management strategy for the tarakihi fishery and a detailed rebuild plan has been provided by Fisheries Inshore NZ, Te Ohu Kaimoana and Southern Inshore Fisheries.

The latest science indicates the fishery will rebuild and recover at the current catch limits set in 2018.  To ensure the rebuild progresses even faster, a number of management measures have been proposed by industry that include changes to fishing gear, move-on rules to avoid juvenile fish and voluntary closed areas where appropriate.

However, Fisheries New Zealand has proposed further drastic cuts of up to 50 percent of the remaining catch.          

The industry view is that would unnecessarily impact on industry jobs and wellbeing of our communities, besides reducing healthy fish options for the 80 percent of Kiwis who eat fish at least once a month.

Further south, a network of 12 marine protected areas has been proposed by Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Nash for the chilly waters off the Otago coast.

Six of the proposed south-east sites are marine reserves in which all paua harvesting would be prohibited.

Two of the would-be reserves – at Harakeke Point to White Island, and Akatore – support significant local recreational fisheries.

A small but important amount of commercial paua catch would be affected as well.

The combined catch displacement can only increase the risk of localised paua depletion in a fishery that is only slowly rebuilding towards its management target.

There is also the risk of a cascading series of future spatial exclusions as customary fishers look to mitigate the impact of displaced catch from marine reserves by establishing more mataitai reserves to protect their own fishing areas.

More than 2800 submissions were made on the original MPA network proposal in December 2016.

A significant number of recreational fishing submitters favoured fisheries management solutions rather than no-take reserves.

Many believe the current recreational limit of 10 paua per person per day is too high.

Ten paua is a lot of meat.

If the consultation is simply a box ticking exercise and the MPAs proceed as proposed, something has to give.

All sectors need to work together, as they have done in Fiordland and with Te Korowai on the Kaikoura coast to develop sustainable fisheries management, according to Paua Industry Council chair Stormalong Stanley. The Auditor-General supported such a community approach in a report to Parliament this week.

“If FNZ ignores displaced catch and does nothing, then the paua fishery and all those who value it will become victims,” Stanley says.