My Post on Radio Interview on NZ initiative report and fisheries generally [updated x2]

Comment on my own Facebook page

Last night I was contacted by NewsTalkZB and asked to comment on the report from the NZ Initiative.
I suggested to them that they ask someone from the NZ Sport Fishing Council to comment, and they still wanted to talk to me.
So this morning at 5:25 I had a short comment on the extremely complex issue of fisheries management.

It just highlighted to me the insanity of our present systems.

How can anyone break down the complexity of our current understanding of systems to a short sound bite?

I spoke of the need to consider fisheries as whole systems, and not treat species as independent of each other.

I spoke of the fact that if we took the largest recreational fishery in NZ (snapper) and split the 5,000 ton catch equally among the million or so people who go fishing, then it is 10 fish per year each. So we have to start to change the way we think about fishing.

I also spoke of the sea being the last bastion of freedom in NZ, and the unwillingness of people to lose that. And we have to show responsibility.

I mentioned that the report highlights the decline of blue cod in the Marlborough sounds, but says nothing about the increase in mussel farming over the same period. And the fact that in farming we talk about stock units and primary production, but in the ocean we don’t consider primary production, and we pretend that putting thousands of tons of a new animal in a space is not going to have any effect on the other animals already living there.

I am in my 12th term as president of the Kaikoura Boating Club. I tried to resign this year, but they gave me a life membership and elected me to the role again.

We looked at joining the Sport Fishing Council and I went to an AGM of the SFC a couple of years ago, and most of the talk was about line weights and trophies. That is fine, it is a perfectly valid set of things to talk about, but it is not something of interest to me, or of general interest to the members of the Kaikoura Boating Club that I represent. So the Sport Fishing Council isn’t a good fit for us.
[Added following a phone call from a friend who had misinterpreted what I wrote-] And again to be specifically clear, the Sport Fishing Council has the best representative structure in existence in this country at present. The SFC is also doing the best work currently in respect of consistent quality presentations to various fisheries forums on management issues. I don’t always agree, but then I rarely (read never) always agree with anyone. I have spent many hours working closely with Option 4 and Legasea, and have the greatest respect for the work they have done and continue to do.
So while SFC may not be a great fit for our club, it is the best democratic representative organisation in existence at present in NZ.[end of addition]

[Further added 6/8/17 – On further reflection, what actually happened at the SFC conference I attended was that there were some excellent presentations to the conference on Fisheries Management issues, by Scott McIndoe, Barry Torkington and Trish Rea. What concerned me wasn’t the levels of presentation – they were of the highest caliber, but rather the lack of discussion.
What I noticed was animated discussion about issues like line weights.
Perhaps that says more about my biases and preconceptions.
Perhaps my own obsessional interest in the depths of fisheries management issues, the biological, cultural, legal and systems aspects, led me to an unrealistic expectation that most others there would share something of that passion, and be interested in the profound uncertainties at the boundaries of all of those conjectures.]

Pre quake we had over 400 family memberships. Understandably that has dropped this year, and I expect it will return to that sort of level in a couple of years.
The NZ Recreational Fishing Council doesn’t have an active democratic structure at present.

I have had many years committed to creating solutions to the problems we face in fishing (both recreational and commercial), and I see the possibility of effective solutions on the longer term horizon, but not a lot in the short term.

What we have done here in Kaikoura, with the Te Korowai process, seems to offer the best model for progress. That model involves getting all interested parties sitting around the table and talking to each other, and finding solutions that everyone can live with that do seem to have a reasonable likelihood of actually working in the local situation. And that model takes time and requires active facilitation by a skilled facilitator and secretarial support.

And some issues are really difficult. I have been interested in all aspects of fishing for over 50 years, from the biology (from biochemistry up through the complex ecological relationships to the modeling and strategic understanding of populations and evolutionary systems) to the human side ( legal, cultural, behavioural, psychological, ethical, systems and processes), and for all of that I am very conscious that what I don’t know vastly exceeds what I do know, and there would not be very many who have a broader or deeper knowledge of the issues present.

I am committed to the ideas of valuing individual life and individual liberty, and that can only work inside contexts that are socially and ecologically responsible.
We are social animals.
We live in complex ecosystems.
We must be responsible for both of those realities if we want to continue to exist, and the idea of freedom is predicated on existence. Pretending anything less than that wont work.
Morality is necessary for the survival of life forms like us – the sort of complexity that we are requires that sort of set of boundaries for survival.

The incentives of our existing market based economic system make it very difficult to achieve any sort of stability.
Centralised control carries a great many dangers.

We are in very dangerous waters.

And the response to the earthquake here in Kaikoura has been heartening.
Most commercial and recreational fishers alike displayed responsible action in practice far more quickly than central bureaucracies. And all have managed to work together for what seems likely to be a close approximation to the best outcome possible.

So where we go from here is a difficult question.

The NZ Sport Fishing Council is currently the largest representative organisation in the country, and it only represents a small fraction.

We have lots of issues.
We need to manage all of our impacts on the marine environment – which includes both aquaculture and fishing, including fishing practices that massively disrupt seabed communities.
It also includes the land practices that impact the ocean, water quality, sediment runoff etc.
It also includes thinking about active enhancement (which we are doing with paua but little else).

Most people have too many other issues of importance to give much time to fisheries (me included).

The more we try and solve issues with systems and rules, the greater the likelihood of unintended consequences leading to far from optimal outcomes. The more centralised and formalised the systems the greater that danger is. Allowing a diversity of smaller responses (like Te Korowai) would seem to allow us to investigate multiple possible solutions simultaneous, and thus lower the risk profiles overall. Too few people understand much about effective management in complex environments. David Snowden’s Cynefin framework is one of the best introductions to a very complex topic that I have found. The logic is clear, that in complex systems fixed rules rarely deliver optimal outcomes, and responsibility needs to be devolved to those with the competencies to deal effectively with the situations they find. Flexibility is key to encouraging responsible outcomes.

It is a really difficult situation.

Interesting start to the day – and I haven’t even had breakfast yet.
SW wind started howling a few minutes ago.
Another day in paradise 😉

[followed by]

Hi Daren
My Dad had a saying that has stuck with me:
Never ascribe to intention that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.
I have found it helpful.

Just to be clear – my comment about competence was not meant to be directed at the competence of anyone generally, but was rather meant to indicate that we all have our limits of competence and that we all go beyond them from time to time. When we do that, recognising it as such, and cleaning up any messes created, is an appropriate response.

[followed by]

Hi Daren,

I don’t see it that way.
Most people simply don’t want to deal with the real numbers.
The total productivity for Hapuku is around 2,200T. If we did a 50/50 split between rec and commercial that is about 1,100T rec catch per year.
Lets assume people want to catch a reasonable sized fish, not a yearling. So put a million people after a 5Kg fish (still a small hapuku), and we end up with one fish every 25 years each.
I’ve already caught my allocation for the next 10,000 years, and some of them very much larger than 5Kg.
The average fisher is not yet ready to accept that they can only take 2 hapuku in a 50 year fishing career. Yet that is what the numbers say.

Is it any wonder that there aren’t any left in close by the rocks???

It’s little short of a miracle that any are left anywhere. They are quite easy to catch, once you work out how to do it.

I have no doubt that it would have been a lot worse without the QMS.

And there is no shortage of problems with the QMS.

The QMS is not some sort of magic solution for every problem in fisheries.
It is a very blunt economic instrument that has worked remarkably well at curbing the worst excesses of the market incentives in fisheries management.

We have a lot more to do.
About that we strongly agree.

The QMS has a strong set of internal incentives to accumulate all quota into ever larger corporate entities. I think some in the select committee that I spoke to on that issue considered that a desirable feature, rather than a serious flaw.

I note in the US situation that they have hard aggregation limits of 2% on quota ownership – not our 30% with exceptions allowed.
They do at least pay some attention to the notion of competitive markets – rather than our situation of granting monopolies.
Not that I’m an all out fan of competitive markets – I much prefer cooperation, and it needs to be cooperation among some approximation to equals, with clearly enforceable penalties for any who cheat on the cooperative (at any level).

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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