Calls for Hauraki Gulf catch data

A proposal by fishing giant Sanford to quit fishing the Hauraki Gulf might seem outlandish, but it’s also provoked just the sort of debate CEO Volker Kuntzsch was aiming for.

In early November, Kuntzsch announced in a speech at the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Seminar that Sanford would be prepared to cease all commercial fishing in the area if recreational fishers chipped in by reporting all their catches.

It is estimated that more than 200,000 amateur fishos try their luck in Hauraki Gulf annually and in combination with commercial operators such as Sanford, pressure on the fishery is intense.

In a report last year, the Hauraki Gulf Forum stated: "The existing data suggests that fishing has reduced the snapper population by around 80 per cent or more in the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty, with the greatest impact on old, large fish."

While many recreational anglers and conservation groups consider commercial fishers to be the root of the problem, Sanford’s CEO has seized on his chance to bring a discussion of sustainable fishing out into the open.

Kuntzsch told the NZ Herald that while commercial fishing was portrayed in a largely negative way, New Zealand's clean, green image and sustainable fisheries provided a great chance to "… create some positive capital."

"It’s such a great story to talk about," he said. "In order to do that we have to be more transparent. We want people to say Sanford is a good citizen."

Commercial fishers such as Sanford are already required to report under-sized snapper catches and use on-board cameras and GPS monitoring, along with Precision Seafood Harvesting (PSH) technology that allows undersized fish to escape before being brought on board a fishing vessel.

Sanford currently operates seven boats in the northern Hauraki Gulf sector known as Snapper 1, holding 24 per cent of the total quota, but Kuntzsch says Sanford would trade all that for more data on the threatened fishery.

"Complete transparency and data on all fishing in the Gulf is an important future step to preserving the fish stocks for future generations," he said.

"The issue we have, is that around half or more of what’s taken out of the Gulf is currently unreported, meaning we have a massive hole in the information available on the health and size of the fish stocks."

While some commentators have pointed out this bold plan may cause increased fishing pressure in areas such as the Bay of Plenty and East Northland, others such as Environment Minister Nick Smith said the proposal was both "constructive and helpful."

Hauraki Gulf Forum chairman John Tregidga said it reflected a newly emerged mood of collaboration among Gulf fishery stakeholders.

"The growth of Auckland and the popularity of recreational fishing means more and more pressure will be put on fish stocks," Tregidga said.

"Sanford’s offer shows a willingness to re-examine business models, to look for accommodation and encourage innovation that will turn around the health of the Hauraki Gulf."

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