Measuring the true value of our shared fisheries

A study on the value of recreational fishing will be a focus of a private three-day seminar in Auckland from today.
The LegaSea-sponsored event will also cover “reconstruction of  marine catches in New Zealand 1950-2010”.
A draft report on the alleged actual catches headed by Auckland University academic Dr Glenn Simmons was made public a year ago.
Its inflated findings have been discredited in several quarters and the report has been undergoing peer review.
Dr Simmons has promised interested parties an embargoed preview of the reworked report and has also indicated it will not be released at the invitation only seminar.
If the Simmons report and the recreational fishing survey are to be used as cudgels against the commercial fishing industry by the LegaSea lobby, that is misguided.
The study undertaken by the NZ Marine Research Foundation in conjunction with Southwick Associates confirming recreational fishing is a billion dollar-plus industry is no surprise.
When the full impact of everything related to fishing - from bait to boats, from fuel to four-wheel drives and holiday homes – is collated, the total soon mounts up.
The figure of $1.7 billion in annual economic activity related to recreational fishing that has been arrived at could be even greater, depending how far the ripples are extended.
Kiwis love to fish and we are blessed with an extended coastline and many opportunities to dangle a line.
Commercial fishermen are no exception. Many of them are among those taking to the water on days off.
But to then line the recreational-related figure up against seafood export figures and argue that this makes recreational fishing more important than commercial is irrational.
That argument does not take account of domestic seafood sales, the 25,000 or so New Zealanders employed in the industry, the billions invested in vessels and plant and gear, and  the billions more spent in procuring services from other sectors and their spending in the economy.  Nor does the comparison look to the benefits for NZ Inc with the commercial sector earning valuable export dollars, while much of the recreational sector spending is on imports.
But it is irrelevant in any case.
It is not a case of my rod being bigger than yours. This is not a peeing contest.
We operate in a shared fishery that has benefits for all New Zealanders across recreational, commercial and customary.
Setting one sector against another is short sighted, not least because the boundaries are so blurred.
A more visionary approach is to find common cause in issues like water quality, silt smothering seabeds as a result of poor forest and land practices, fish thieving, better fisheries management, improved science, restocking and reseeding, political interventions.
We all want the same thing – a sustainable fishery and more abundant catches.
And we are not doing too badly, despite the doomsayers.
The latest Ministry for Primary Industries stock assessments confirm that.
The Status of New Zealand Fisheries report found 83 percent of individual fish stocks of known status and almost 97 percent of landings are above levels where their sustainability could be a concern.
Anyone doubting that should attend the annual fisheries assessment working group meetings, which are open to any interested parties.
Anecdotally, my snapper-fishing friends on the Hauraki Gulf and in Nelson and on Wellington’s Kapiti coast report snapper fishing this summer has been pretty good. They are only too happy to send me pictorial evidence. At times, I am able to gleefully reciprocate. It was the same last summer.
This is despite the ever increasing number of recreational boats on the water. It is the overall recreational catch that is increasing, especially in the Gulf, not the commercial.
No wonder the recreational fishing lobby is so resistant to recording catches.
And on the days when you don’t fill your fish bin, it is too easy to blame someone else.
We all know fishing is not like that. If it were, it would be boring. Angling  is a test of skill. It takes years to develop the knowledge to be consistently successful and even then spawning cycles, water temperature and the weather all play a major hand.
The fishing magazines are filled with evidence every month of great catches.
As veteran fishing writer Gary Kemsley said in the New Zealand Fishing News April issue, reflecting on 60 years of chasing fish: “All in all the fishing’s been great. The diversity of species and locations still make New Zealand a wonderful place to live if you’re a fisherman.”
I think we can all agree on that.