Fisheries Politics

Our Politician of the Week

This is a really complex topic – much like a fractal.

At the top level is the fundamental problem that money is a scarcity based measure of value, and real abundance of anything has zero value (if you doubt this, consider oxygen in the air, arguably the most valuable thing for any human being, but of no monetary value because of its abundance). The logical extension of this level is that it is not possible to set up a stable market based incentive to deliver real abundance of anything. Any market based system will settle to a balance of scarcity at some level (which is fine if there genuinely is scarcity, but insane if there actually is an ability to deliver real abundance to all).

At the next level is how we view fisheries.
One way of looking at ecosystems (perhaps the most powerful) is to follow the flows of energy through the systems; from sunlight, to plant plankton, to animal plankton, and up through various level of things eating things (sometimes going in circles if things die and are decomposed).
We tend to take a human centred view, seeing ourselves as an end point, but the amount of captured sunlight ending up in people is a very small fraction of the total hitting the ocean.
One advantage of looking at fisheries this way is that it is clear conservationists are users of that energy, just as much as Maori traditional fishers, other sustenance fishers, children, retirees, employed recreational fishers, maritime tourism and commercial fishers.
Viewed this way all interest groups have a valid interest in fisheries.

By law, the only group allowed to monetise that interest directly is commercial fishers. Tourism operators be they charter fishers, marine mammal operators, or various sorts of fish watchers (from glass bottom boats to dive operators) are allowed to make money indirectly.
This has lead to a vast asymmetry in the ability of different sectors to engage in the management process.

In Kaikoura we have spent nine years with representatives of all sectors sitting around the table, coming to agreed understandings through a process of gifts and gains. The process was one of consensus, meaning all groups effectively had power of veto. Everyone had to be able to live with every decision – perhaps not anyone’s first choice, and everyone agreed. Everyone had some wins, everyone had to give something.

Nothing like the Kaikoura experience exists at a national level, though there are some signs of movement in that general direction.

I disagree with Adam on one point – that of property rights. The Quota Management System (QMS) is certainly a form of property right, and no property right is absolute. Any land can be confiscated for failure to pay rates, any personal property can be confiscated if used in the commission of a crime. The property right involved in Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) or Annual Catch Entitlements (ACE) are different sorts of property rights from the Torrens system we use for land titles, and it is a form of property right in law.

There are many problems with a licencing system for recreational fishers. It addresses some aspects of funding recreational fishing advocacy, but introduces a huge range of injustices in the process, and fundamentally undermines one of the foundational legal rights of ordinary citizens to fish. It is an extremely dangerous approach from a recreational perspective, and at this point I strongly council against it. Such an approach does nothing to adequately resource either the tourism or conservation interests, who have an equally valid place at the table.

At this stage, the only sensible way is for government to adequately fund all of the non commercial sector interests out of general taxation, as most of us have all of those interests in some measure.

Most Kiwis like to catch a fish occasionally.
Most of us like to know that the marine ecosystem is being conserved, and responsibly managed. Many of us have visited marine reserves and marvelled at both the abundance, and the difference in fish behaviour, within them.
Many of us have paid commercial operators to take us to see fish, or whales, or dolphins, or seals, or seabirds, or sharks or marine reserves.
Very few people are commercial fishers, and most of us want to buy and eat fish from time to time (so someone has to catch them).

Fisheries are complex.
Fisheries management is complex.
Most of us have complex interests in fisheries.

Licencing recreational fishers is a very blunt instrument that is likely to do far more harm than good at this point in time.

The safest and most efficient option right now is for government to acknowledge that adequate resourcing of non-commercial interests is a matter of general social interest and is a valid use of general taxation.

Authorised by Ted Howard – 1 Maui Street, Kaikoura

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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