ANG Cause of the month – Fisheries Management

ANG Cause of the Month – Fisheries Management

Hi Dale – thanks for that (I think?) 😉

I made a comment on my facebook page this morning, which both Dale and Deb noted.

Fisheries are really complex topics.

Scientists can spend their entire lives investigating the ecosystems present in a single drop of seawater.

The ocean has that peculiar property of the bigger the bit of it you look at, the more complex it is, both in terms of the physical and biological processes present.

Same goes for looking at changes over time.
You can see patterns that repeat on the scale of days, months, years, and any period longer than that.

We know of some species that vary on cycles of centuries, while others change without any discernible pattern over just a few days or weeks.

If you can think of a pattern, you can probably find an example of it somewhere in fisheries biology.

We humans tend to focus our attention on catching quite largish things, near the top end of the food chain. We can have quite an impact on those things, in several ways.

And we do seem to be generally improving the way we manage fisheries, and there is a constant tension between the economic imperative to meet this quarter’s profit target, and the long term needs of fisheries.

In New Zealand we put most of our major commercial species into a quota management system in 1986.
The first time I heard about that idea was when I met a visiting economist from the USA (Lee Anderson) in a pub in Wellington (our capital city) in 1980.
The more I thought about it, the more sensible it seemed, though it came with many sets of issues (most of which have surfaced).
So I was very active in the process of discussions that led up to the 1986 introduction. For the latter part of that period I was the Northern Regional Field Officer for the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, and spent a lot of time talking to different groups. I was also on the Primary Producers Council of the NZ Labour Party (who were in power for the last 2 years leading up to the introduction – so spent a lot of time talking to ministers and cabinet about the issues). So when Minister Colin Moyle required agreement of more than half of the people actually fishing, my going to those meetings was probably a big part of getting the system into being.

The quota system isn’t any sort of perfect solution, and it seemed to be (and has proven to be) a lot more effective than the alternatives.
Most of our stocks are in a positive state compared to where they were in 1980, and some still present us with profoundly complex issues that no one is prepared to touch.

To give one notable example – the Gisborne city are cray fishery.
This is what I call the “perfect storm” of fisheries management.

It had some particularly strong willed individuals present. One individual managed to convince a lot of people that there were a lot more fish there than there actually were. By itself that was an issue that could have been worked through, but there was more.

Cray fisheries tend to have highly variable recruitment. In good years there are lots of new animals, in bad years not very many. They are long lived, so normally have a large biomass of adults to smooth out those bumps.
But the adult biomass had been fished to very low levels.
Then there was a succession of years of poor recruitment.

About this time a new marine reserve was introduced.
The commercial fishers tried to get the government to buy out the fishers who fished in the area that was to become a reserve, but the treasury (already burned by earlier failures in the hoki and orange roughy fisheries) refused, and fought it through the courts.

So effort that was spread up the coast got concentrated near town.
Research done during years of reasonable recruitment showed that juveniles grew by an average of 2mm of tail width (the measure used) each year. So in a bad year, to separate conflict between commercial and recreational fishers, there was an agreement to allow commercial fishers to take fish 2mm smaller than the recreational take, but to do so in winter, before the spring moult and the summer recreational fishery.

Problem was, that when under stress, the animals don’t grow by 2mm, per moult, but average less than 1mm. So that meant that commercial fishers had preferential access to the fishery that amounted to over 90%. Understandably the recreational public became upset at their inability to catch a legal cray.

Department of conservation research that supported these facts did not support departmental dogma that marine reserves are always a positive influence on fisheries outcomes, so has been suppressed.
Neither Treasury nor the Department of Conservation are really interested in the facts becoming too public.

Add in another layer, which is that many of the Maori tribes from around that area did not sign the Treaty of Waitangi, and arguably have a case in international law that their rights of self governance have not been expunged. Quite understandably there is no appetite in government to go anywhere near that issue.

So commercial wont give up their concession (and why would they, they were screwed over by government).
Many individuals have simply decided that the rule of law is a sad joke, and just take a feed anyway (and who can blame them).

Fisheries department are faced with what amounts to civil disobedience on a scale that is essentially universal, and political demands that are impossible to meet – and cannot do anything about it – so they are held in contempt by just about everyone.

[Economic expediency and false promises on the part of government leading to cascading failure at every level of social and ecological systems. A real “can of worms”.]

So for all the many successes (and many other problems) of our quota management system, we still have some serious issues.

And on the whole, taking a helicopter view, it is working.

And the idea that we can use markets to effectively measure value in a planning context cannot any longer be sustained.
Distribution is fine, provided everyone has income – so some sort of universal basic income is a necessary next step in the evolution of our economic and political systems.

But in the planning sense, anything universally abundant in a market must have a value of zero or less, yet most people as individuals value such universal abundance highly, and we are now developing technologies that allow us to deliver it. That is the critical issue facing humanity.

It is as real for fisheries as anywhere else.

Interesting times!

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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