Mirage News: No snap decisions, just good science

Snap decisions are not allowed in our industry. Only snapper decisions. Right now, big decisions are being made about whether to raise the total catch allowed for three major snapper species.

Our industry is committed in providing sustainable quality seafood to New Zealanders and consumers around the world. We are contributing to Aotearoa’s economic recovery and the wellbeing of our communities as we provide sustainable seafood.

Fish stocks must be healthy now and in the future to exist and thrive. We participate in a government process twice a year that examines the science on abundance, health and sustainability of certain fish populations and makes recommendations.

The process culminates with a plenary where independent reviewers are invited (hired directly by the government) to ensure that scientific conclusions and outputs have been properly vetted.

Fisheries New Zealand has now begun consulting on proposed changes to catch limits for nearly 20 stocks, including an increase in the total allowable increase for three snapper stock (SNA 2, 7 and 8).

How is our snapper doing?

Commercial fishermen off the East coast of the North Island have been telling us for the last few years that the snapper population is booming. Our reccie fishing friends in Hawke’s Bay also told us this.

It’s always nice to hear this kind of news. But decisions about total allowed catch increases cannot be solely based on what fishermen see on the water. They need to be supported by good science.

Seafood New Zealand is able to help in this area – we are able to coordinate the science. For snapper in SNA 2, following fisher reports, we commissioned Catch-Per-Unit-Effort (CPUE) updates for the past four years. These updates showed substantial increases in SNA 2 catch rates, and consequently abundance.

In May, our research provider presented the findings at the plenary and these were accepted as a credible trend for biomass. This indicated that there are no sustainability concerns with this fishery. Fisheries New Zealand has now begun consulting on an increase in the total allowable catches of up to 30 percent for SNA 2.

It is also possible that the productivity increase could be even larger, but this is not without concern due to the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle.

After the devastating Cyclone Gabrielle we also conducted a spatial analysis on three important fish stocks including SNA 2 to better understand the changes in the location of fishing efforts and their impact on overall catch rates and sustainability.

We are therefore being very cautious, and we are working hard to ensure the sustainability of our stock. Next year, we will update the rapid CPUE abundance monitoring tool and likely will do so the following year as well to detect the effects of the Cyclone and monitor the response to an increased catch.

The question that arises is, what are the reports of milky-flesh snapper being caught in parts of the Hauraki Golf? This phenomenon was not mentioned in SNA 2 which is where our research focused. This is also an excellent time to mention that MPI (the Ministry for Primary Industries), has recently released the results of ongoing and recent testing.

Simon Lawrence, Director Science & Information at Fisheries New Zealand, was quoted in the media release as saying that “the evidence indicates a complex interaction between factors including extended La Nina climate patterns and warmer water causing a lower production of phytoplankton & zooplankton which provide important food sources for the bottom of food chain.”

The report stated that “a shortage of food is the most likely cause, but that there was no evidence that fishing caused the syndrome.”

“Overall we have seen more snapper in Hauraki for some time. There are many young fish in the fishery, and they all compete for food.

Commercial fishing has no impact on the main food source of snapper.

No decisions are taken lightly in the world of fisheries. Science is being done in colossal quantities to inform sustainable management of fisheries and ensure economic prosperity. We are proud to be a part of the plenary and we love seeing our science make a difference for the fishers.

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