Outrage on pink maomao haul brings fishing rule change

Outrage at the mass taking of the Coromandel coast’s pink maomao – aslow-growing fish species not included in bag limits – has led to nationwide consultation on urgent legislative change.

Fisheries New Zealand needs public input to proposed tightening of recreational take rules after the alleged “wholesale slaughter” of pink maomao by groups of fishermen filmed in Tairua sparked outrage.

The public is encouraged to submit views before November 18.

In June, the Hauraki-Coromandel Post broke the story of a group of fishermen returning to the Tairua wharf with thousands of pink maomao in bins.

It was also filmed by documentary maker Mike Bhana who estimated 1500-2000 pink maomao fish were collected that day.

Locals reported seeing this and other groups of recreational fishermen going out daily and filling their bins with thousands of fish.

The next morning, Tairua residents blocked the wharf with trailers and MPI called on residents to refrain from “vigilante” action.

Following an investigation by MPI, no action will be taken against the fishermen.

However, it’s being hailed as a win for at-risk fisheries, such as the pink maomao, that sit outside recreational catch limits.

Young pink maomao are rarely seen, suggesting the species reproduces slowly and only occasionally.

Mike Bhana said it was a win for Tairua.

“Tairua may be responsible for changing the bag limit. It’s significant that after a couple of months of us standing up, we’ve been able to start the change to legislation. That’s a really positive thing because most things take forever.

“It shows if you start the ball rolling and have enough of the public behind you, you can make changes.”

However, people must submit their views to MPI by 5pm on November 18.

Ngati Hei kaumatua Joe Davis – who imposed a voluntary rahui on the species immediately after the story broke – said Auckland’s lockdown had been a temporary reprieve on the fishery, but the Coromandel community should remain vigilant.

“Go to the police, go to the Fisheries officers.”

He believed pressure would only intensify on pink maomao now that it was realised how popular the species is for food.

“Brace yourself for the tsunami that’s coming. There’s a real market with huge appeal to an Asian market overseas, it’s been proven by the amount that has been taken to the black markets; obviously, it’s dropped back because of Covid but it could come back.”

He urged fishing charter operators to be wary of taking customers who then used technology to pinpoint top fishing spots previously known about only through local knowledge: “Otherwise they’re cutting their own throats.”

Acknowledging the passion of a community’s desire to see its fishery protected, MPI national manager fisheries compliance Niamh Murphy said the investigation could not confirm any wrongdoing.

“We have completed our investigation into the complaints. We spoke to the groups of people who were involved and inspected their catches and found no evidence of illegal activity.

“We understand people feel strongly about protecting the fisheries resource, and where there is evidence of illegal activity, we take appropriate action. In the meantime, we encourage people to be respectful of the fishery and of one another.

“We know that some of the species that don’t have daily bag limit have become more popular, such as the pink maomao.

“To address this, Fisheries New Zealand is consulting on changes to the recreational bag limit for all finfish.”

He said applying a daily bag limit to all finfish would ensure there is reasonable use and future-proof other species that may become more popular to catch and eat.

“This would also ensure the rules are more consistent and easier to follow.”

Consultation is open until Thursday, November 18, and MPI encourages anyone with an interest to have their say on the proposals.

New Zealanders’ fisheries concerns are widespread, with more than 10,000 submissions received during public consultation on reviews to catches of other species.

Minister of Oceans and Fisheries David Parker announced several conservative decisions last month for the future management of west coast North Island snapper, hāpuku and bass, East Coast South Island blue cod and gurnard catches.

Recreational fishing lobby Legasea spokesman Sam Woolford called for clear targets to rebuild fish stocks to a minimum 50 per cent of their so-called original biomass.

Original biomass is based on stocks as at 1910, prior to industrial fishing with diesel engines and big trawl nets.

At present, if the fishery is at 20 per cent of original biomass, a rebuild must be initiated. If it falls to less than 10 per cent, the fishery needs to be shut down.

“We’re in a downward spiral,” he said, pointing to tarakihi as an example, at 17 per cent on the entire east coast.

In June, Forest and Bird won a High Court decision over the rebuild that former fisheries minister Stuart Nash put in place over tarakihi. The court ruled that when deciding how long a fish stock should take to recover, the minister should consider the biology of the fish, not a voluntary fishing industry plan.

MPI said less than 3 per cent of recreational fishing trips result in a catch of more than 18 individual fish, so the vast majority of recreational fisheries would not be affected.

The primary proposal:
• Option 1 – Status quo
• – Include all finfish species not currently subject to a daily bag limit, in the combined daily bag limit
• – Include all finfish species, including those with additional individual species limits, in the combined daily bag limit

Mike Bhana said discussion among fishing forums is that nobody needs to take more than 20 finfish total, with most supporting option 3.

Option 3 would allow fishers to still catch 20 finfish each. Option 2 meant even more, with fewer protections of the fishery resource.

“How many fish do you really need?” he said.

“When you think about it, 20 finfish per person or even three kingfish per person, that is ridiculous. If we want fish tomorrow, we’ve got to be realistic about that.”

Southern bluefin tuna have also been highlighted in the consultation.

The review of recreational daily bag limits provided an opportunity to move the southern bluefin tuna daily bag limit from a Gazette Notice to regulation, thereby providing for consistency with other recreational rules.

Making your submission: Send MPI your feedback by 5pm on November 18.
Go to www.mpi.govt.nz/consultations/review-of-recreational-daily-bag-limits-for-finfish/

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