Submitted 5 March 2020: Read the NZCA's submission on Submission on Improving Whitebait Management / Te whakapai ake I te whakahaere inanga.

Submission date: 5 March 2020
Submitted to: Department of Conservation

The Legislative Basis for the New Zealand Conservation Authority submission

1. The New Zealand Conservation Authority (the NZCA) was established under the Conservation Act 1987, with members appointed by the Minister of Conservation. It is an independent statutory body with a range of functions, but primarily acts as an independent conservation advisor to the Minister and the Director-General of Conservation.

2. The NZCA has a growing role as an objective advocate on matters of national significance and interest in the conservation arena and provides high quality independent advice to the Minister of Conservation and to the Department of Conservation (DOC) on its strategic direction and performance.

3. The NZCA has a range of powers and functions, under the Conservation Act 1987, as well as under other conservation related legislation. Under the Conservation Act, Section 6C(2)(c), the NZCA has the power to “advocate the interests of the NZCA at any public forum or in any statutory planning process.”

4. One of the NZCA’s statutory functions is to approve conservation management strategies and conservation management plans, and review and amend such strategies and plans. They constitute the key management documents for directing conservation effort and resources in New Zealand. Many of these documents have objectives, policies and outcomes relating to the conservation of native species and predator control.

5. Following the logic of the above powers and functions, the NZCA supports work to review whitebait management and appreciates opportunities to provide feedback on how this will be achieved.

6. The NZCA was represented on the Whitebait Working Group 2018/19, a group established as part of DOC’s engagement process to reflect the range of interests that New Zealanders have in whitebait.

NZCA Submission

7. The following submissions are the NZCA’s main concerns about the proposals. The NZCA submission is based on their analysis of the Improving Whitebait Management: Discussion Document / Te whakapai ake I te whakahaere īnanga.

General Comments

8. The NZCA supports the approach to improving the management of the NZ whitebait fishery and the proposed actions put forward in the Discussion Document.

9. The NZCA has concern that these actions are not substantial enough to both cement the future of whitebait fisheries in New Zealand, and address the issue of improving and maintaining the conservation status of the five galaxiid species.

10. The NZCA has concern that the issues outlined in Table 3 exclude the most fundamental issues (‘white’ issues) that require addressing to meet the goals of this document.

11. In addition, the NZCA believes that the management options included in this consultation, as laid out in Table 4, will be insufficient to resolve the underlying problems, which are the ‘white’ issues in that table.

12. The NZCA supports the goal for whitebait management as described in Part 2.1, and the management outcomes as described in Part 2.2.

13. The NZCA supports the proposal to ban some fishing methods (Part 3.4), such as sock nets, and to have the option of temporarily closing some rivers to whitebaiting, although the NZCA anticipates that this may be received negatively by the public.

14. The NZCA supports a review of the whitebait fishing regulations. In particular, the NZCA strongly supports propositions to limit the season (Part 3.1), to create whitebait refuges (Part 3.3), and to phase out the export of whitebait (Part 3.5).

The NZCA submits that: the ‘white’ issues of Table 3 are the most fundamental issues that must be addressed to achieve the goal of this document.

An Alternate Approach – The NZCA’s Proposal

15. The work completed to date, and the Discussion Document, present a rare opportunity to establish a sustainable future for the management of the Whitebait fishery. This consultation on whitebait management provides the opportunity to set up a framework that helps secure an improved conservation status of the species of whitebait, as well as provide certainty for both the commercial fishers and the traditional recreational whitebaiters. The NZCA asks that the following comments and framework ideas be given serious consideration.

16. The NZCA was represented on the Whitebait Working Group, and therefore are aware of a range of interests and viewpoints in the whitebait fishery. One substantial issue explored in these discussions was the matter of disquiet amongst the recreational whitebaiting community that some recreational whitebaiters are motivated by monetary gain.

17. The NZCA is of the view that there must a clear separation between commercial and recreational whitebaiters. At present, there appears to be indistinct and unenforced definition between the two fishing practices, with concern in the recreational whitebaiting community over the sale of whitebait by those who consider themselves recreational whitebaiters, and the associated issues around paying tax, or not declaring sales as taxable income.

18. The NZCA submitsthat: commercial whitebaiters should be defined as anyone selling whitebait.

19. Another fundamental issue is that there is a considerable lack of data on whitebait populations. There is no requirement to record and report daily or seasonal catch levels, and so changes over time in the catch per unit effort (CPUE) are not recorded. Subsequently, changes to, and sizes of, whitebait populations are unknown. Without this data, it is impossible to manage and conserve a resource.

20. The NZCA consider that providing education about the importance of whitebait, and the positive impact of the regulations being put in place will be a fundamental component to the wider public support.

21. The NZCA are proposing a framework which will yield tangible data to underpin management and conservation of these taonga species.

Commercial Whitebaiters:

22. The NZCA submitsthat:

  • Commercial whitebaiters should be required to be registered and hold a commercial licence, with stipulations to provide catch data, including catch levels, the source of catch, and amount sold.
  • The total allowable catch should be pooled, with an annual tonnage, and the pool adjusted and allocated annually to the registered commercial operators.
  • Unused or uncaught allocation in any one year should not be able to be on-sold to another commercial whitebaiter and, instead, would go back into the annual pool. This would avoid commercial whitebaiter allocations becoming a high value property right. This approach is very important as the whitebait catch seems to be highly variable from year to year.
  • An annual registration fee associated with the allocation from the pool would be needed to fund administration, compliance and auditing, data collection and analysis, and system management.

23. Commercial whitebaiters should only be able to sell to licenced buyers, and the selling of whitebait without a commercial licence should be illegal.

24. Unrestricted commercial harvesting of whitebait is a major issue, and is a cause for concern among many recreational and traditional whitebaiters. It can lead to conflict between whitebaiters and to potential health and safety issues, with whitebait of unknown source and age being sold without any restrictions. The requirement to provide information on the source of the catch would combat these issues.

25. A significant benefit of this proposed system would be the resulting good catch data. The requirement to record and report on daily or seasonal catch levels will provide consistent and accurate CPUE data, indicative of overall, and local, changes in whitebait population.

26. This would result in consistent data sets that can be used to drive decision making about the size of the future allocation pools. If data is collected about the location of catches, then this information could drive decisions about initiatives proposed in the Discussion Document, such as around refuge rivers and catch limits.

27. Existing information about whitebait catches suggest that the West Coast of the South Island may be the only region that can sustain a commercial whitebait fishery.

28. While large numbers of whitebait are anecdotally reported to be caught at the Waikato River Mouth, the continued loss of spawning sites in the lower reaches means the numbers will never be as great as the West Coast.

29. The proposed commercial whitebait quota system could mirror the Quota Management System (QMS) for Pāua, where established fishers provide their catch history and the system is adjusted as time goes on. The NZCA respectfully suggests that DOC seek advice from MPI Fisheries, and in particular with their staff experienced in establishing the Pāua QMS.

Recreational Whitebaiters:

30. The NZCA submitsthat:

  • Recreational whitebaiters should be required to have an annual licence.
  • Recreational whitebaiters should not be allowed to sell whitebait.

31. The recreational whitebaiters annual licence would be a self-funding system modelled on the Fish & Game licencing system. The NZCA respectfully suggest that DOC seek advice from Fish & Game for this proposal.

32. The pricing of the licence should not be prohibitive, and would present an opportunity for incentives in providing data, such as a discounted or free licence for the following season if the licence holder is prepared to provide catch data, date, and location for the current season. This would provide DOC with much needed data about the whitebait fishery which would aid in future management decisions, and in establishing daily and seasonal catch limits depending on the river and region.

33. The NZCA recognises that the pricing of this licence would require significant consideration, not only in establishing the price, but also in the use of the money raised. An appropriate price level could:

  • Provide funding for running the licence system.
  • Provide funding for management, monitoring (including data analysis), and research above the current baseline.
  • Provide funding for compliance, above the current baseline.
  • Provide funding for habitat enhancement and restoration, noting the inclusion of this concept in the draft NPS Indigenous Biodiversity.

34. A ban on recreational whitebaiters selling whitebait would likely produce benefits for the conservation of the species, and would assist in eliminating the whitebait “black market”, which is of particular concern to the genuine recreational whitebaiter.

Concluding Comments

35. The NZCA is of the view the NZ whitebait fishery needs a credible management framework that will address the long-term sustainability of the fishery, whilst improving the conservation status of the species concerned.

36. The NZCA is concerned that the current proposals will not do enough to ensure robust and considerable changes are made to protect these native fish species, some of which are officially classed as threatened or at risk and declining. Failing to implement an enduring framework to protect these taonga at this stage have significant consequences for these species.

37. These NZCA submissions define commercial whitebaiting, and prioritise the method of licencing as a means of monitoring and regulation.

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