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Idealog—in the ideas business

Gareth Morgan gives everyone a slap about fishing

When Gareth Morgan set out to address members of the public at the launch of his new book Hook, Line and Blinkers – a critical look at New Zealand’s fishing industry – he didn’t set out to make friends.

Estimates are that excess fishing costs the world $50 billion and the world's fisheries are in critical danger of being over-fished to the point of no return.

New Zealand is no longer a world beater in managing fisheries – we’re currently ranked eighth.

Morgan and co-author Geoff Simmons want New Zealand to once again lead the world in fisheries management. They say in order to do that, we must have more fish in the water, limit the impact of fishing on the environment, create marine reserves in 10 percent of our waters, and license recreational fishers.

Environmentally conscious folk would have thought they were on to a winner when Morgan and Simmons came out firing at overfishing and called for more constraints on both recreational and commercial fishermen’s ‘race to fish’.

But, just in case people were counting their chickens, Morgan also added: “Squawking greenies are no help either. All food production has some impact [on the earth].”

Keith Ingram, ex-president of the Recreational Fishing Council (RFC), angled some criticism back at Morgan and Simmons for not acknowledging the measures the RFC had taken to foster change in sustainable fishing.

Morgan responded by saying he didn’t give a toss about the RFC, which in his view has been a total failure.

Recreational fishermen copped most of the scathing Morgan ire – perhaps because they were the vocal majority in the audience.

Instead of the “ridiculous competition between commercial and recreational fishers,” Morgan wants a holistic approach to managing the fishery which encompasses both. A way to do this would be to zone parts of the ocean in the way that land is zoned in agricultural use, he says.

He also came out firing at charter fishing, asserting that it should registered as a commercial practice.

Michelle Pawson, an environmental advisor who has worked across government, agreed with most of the pair’s major findings, but said: “They have skimmed over identifying usable mechanisms that could help enable change. It is one thing to say we need recreational licensing, but it is another thing to work out how this could be realistically achieved in New Zealand.”

She believes there needs to be a culture shift away from the pioneering attitude of ‘the right to fish’ towards the users of resources taking greater responsibility in protecting the resource.

Similarly, Hook, Line and Blinkers places some of the responsibility on consumers taking leadership roles in their purchases.

The book
Morgan loves fishing. The impetus for the book came about when he returned home from fishing in the Cook Strait with massive hauls, and his family questioned him about the age of the fish he had caught and the necessity of such big catches.

His curiosity was piqued and he sought to answer the questions the way he does best, with an economically based analysis of the situation – in this case the state of New Zealands and the world’s fishery.

More Morgan observations
• “No-one refutes that there are rises in C02 emissions except retards.”
• The “hip young things” who have taken up eating sushi as a healthy and fashionable food are playing a big part in the overfishing of salmon and tuna. To Morgan, the overfishing of tuna for sushi is on par with shark fin fishing.

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Gareth makes some powerful points, and missed a few too.

I agree that we need more community involvement and awareness in fisheries management, and it is a a long slow process. Here in Kaikoura we have been meeting for 6 years with leaders from recreational, traditional and commercial fishers, conservation groups, and tourism and charter operators. It takes a long time, and a lot of misunderstandings to build understanding and awareness, and our group “Te Korowai o te tai o Marokura” (Kaikoura Coastal Guardians - ) has been doing that.

It is a slow process building awareness, and it challenges assumptions. One of those assumptions that has hit my focus is money ( more thoughts on that on my blog ) and I suspect Gareth and I could discuss that at some length.

Here in Kaikoura we have built an understanding between the different groups and aspirations in the community, and have delivered a draft plan for the coast, and it is an ongoing journey (see

It seems to me that Gareth is too harsh on the Rec Fishing Council. I have been a member for several years, and see the same issues there as we face here in Kaikoura, with different mindsets, assumption sets, and understandings.
Having been around fisheries for over half a century, and having been an advisor to Colin Moyle in the 80s - I perhaps see a little more of the complexity involved, and the effort and outcomes achieved by many different groups.

And I agree with Gareth - we must do much more.
Recreational fishing needs a mechanism of funding its own advocacy.
There is a strong case to be made for central funding of recreational fishing science, and rec fishers need to step up and start accurately recording what they catch, where and when. There is no substitute for hard data.
However, no government is going to agree to centrally fund a political advocacy group that may oppose the government; and any advocacy group that managed to attract government funding would soon find it gone if they disagreed with the government of the day.

So it is a very complex situation, and in that complex situation, people like Keith Ingram, Sheryl Hart and Geoff Rowling have earned my respect for their commitment, their knowledge, and their perseverance. So too have people like Scott Macindoe, Trish Rea, John Holdsworth and Barry Torkington; even though we don't always agree.

What we have found here in Kaikoura, is that it takes a lot of effort and commitment, a lot of time, and a lot of mistakes, to see that we mostly want much the same thing, we just have different ways of looking at it and talking about it.

Firstly congratulations to Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons on a great book. For the first time, an independant keen recreational fisher can tell it in his book of where the New Zealand fishing has gone wrong. Good on him getting into all those who have been wrong and will not bend. If recreational leaders do not take their blinkers off after reading this, there is no hope. But there would be hope if all the advocacy groups got together, united and discuss just what Gareth has to say. I am personally very tired of battling with a unforgiving Ministry of Fisheries and a commercial sector that will not “allow for” enough, for the people of this country. Promises, promises by the last Minister of Fisheries who did nothing for my region after the last pre-election promises of areas closed to commercial, to solve the spatial conflict that has gone on for ever it seems, where we live and fish. Aucklanders in my opinion do not have this conflict because the populated Aucklanders would give Mfish hell, if they allowed commercial to trawl, pot and gill net around the city, like what goes on around Gisborne, particularly with crayfish and the unfair concession commercial enjoy and not us, the public.
The answer then is to unite, just like how we do in our All Black team, to be world champions…
A recreational sector, united, as a peak body by funding itself to fight for our undefined rights would have teeth.
With teeth we would get results. While so many good people try so hard, nothing will happen as long as the Ministry and commercial know, they can get away with it.

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