Sweeping Changes to Fishing Rules for the Fiordland Marine Area

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The Fiordland Marine Guardians have welcomed widespread changes to the area’s recreational fishing rules, announced on Wednesday by the Minister for Oceans and Fisheries, Hon. Shane Jones. The new rules take effect on April 25th. The Guardians have advocated strongly for the changes and have been working with the community for several years to define the problems and develop solutions.

The rule changes are in response to growing concerns about stocks of popular species in the area including rāwaru/blue cod, hāpuku/groper, pāua and scallops. Recreational fishing pressure has increased throughout Fiordland in recent years and has extended far beyond the main access points of Piopiotahi/Milford Sound and Patea/Doubtful Sound. 

Guardians Chairperson Dr Rebecca McLeod said, “The Guardians want future generations to be able to enjoy the same experience that we’ve been fortunate to have. This isn’t simply a case of holding the line. In several instances, fish stocks need to be rebuilt, and the only way to achieve that is to significantly reduce the overall level of fishing pressure in the fiords.”

The new rules are designed to encourage people to fish in places that can support a higher level of fishing effort. There are higher bag limits for finfish on the open coast (20 per fisher) than inside the fiords (10 per fisher). These limits reflect the fact that stocks on the open coast are more productive than those inside the fiords, where lower amounts of sunlight, wave energy and higher freshwater cause fish to grow and breed at slower rates.

The daily limits for individual species of finfish and shellfish have been reduced across-the-board. In many cases, limits for individual species are higher on the open coast than inside the fiords. For example, on the open coast the daily limit for blue cod is 10, compared to a limit of 1 inside the fiords. Similarly, the daily limit for pāua is 5 on the open coast and 2 inside the fiords. 

The main changes are:

  • Reductions in mixed bag and single species limits for most species of shellfish and finfish
  • Establishing a new zone called “the Fiords” within each fiord, that begins at a boundary across the entrance headlands of each fiord
  • Tiered mixed bag and single species limits (lower in the Fiords) to incentivise fishing in the more productive open coast areas
  • Closure of scallop and oyster fisheries throughout the Fiordland Marine Area
  • Closure of hāpuku/groper/bass fishing in the innermost parts (Internal Waters) of all fiords 
  • Rock lobster limits have not changed 

Dr McLeod acknowledges that whilst there is widespread acceptance of the issues, people may feel aggrieved by the scale of the changes. “During this process we have drawn heavily on accounts from people that have been fishing the area for decades. They speak of the days when they could catch groper in the fiords with ease and be so confident in catching blue cod for dinner that they wouldn’t take any meat in with them. That’s what we’re aiming for with these changes. We can turn these fisheries around by treading a little lighter for a while.” 

The fishery for hāpuku/groper is now closed in the Internal Waters of all fiords, as concerns about the stocks of the species in the innermost parts of the fiords was a theme that came through strongly during consultation. A further consultation round that includes the introduction of catch limits per vessel is in process. If the fisheries legislation is revised to enable vessel limits to be applied, the Guardians will consider whether a limit of one hāpuku/groper per vessel would be appropriate for the Internal Waters of Fiordland.

The Guardians have found the lack of hard fisheries data challenging in terms of making recommendations on the management of the fisheries. But Dr McLeod explains that the Guardians are encouraged by the development of the recreational fishing reporting app Mainland Catch, and innovations in research for monitoring fish stocks. “If the fishing community gets onboard and reports their catch, we will be in a strong position to review these rules in five years’ time.”

The Fiordland Marine Guardians is an advisory group established under the Fiordland (Te Moana o Atawhenua) Marine Management Act 2005. They advise central and local government on the integrated management of the Fiordland Marine Area. 

Download a copy of the revised amateur fishing rules for Fiordland here [www.mpi.govt.nz].

Kinsey Blue cod