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Quota decisions a boost for New Zealand fishing industry
By Anne Beston - environment reporter

New Zealand Herald

24th May 2004

The first two quota decisions by new Fisheries Minister David Benson-Pope have been a boost for the fishing industry.

The Ministry of Fisheries advised Mr Benson-Pope that the southern blue whiting fishery, in the remote Southern Ocean, should be cut. But he left the quota alone after the ministry changed its initial advice.

The ministry said that at present catch levels, the southern blue whiting stock was declining.

It recommended cutting the annual catch of 25,000 tonnes to between 15,000-20,000 tonnes.

But the minister said new stock assessments following that advice meant the status quo would be retained for this fishing season beginning October 1.

He would possibly reduce the quota next year but had borne in mind the "inevitable decisions" to be made on the hoki fishery.

"The initial advice was for a reduction but some of the science was challenged by the fishery and there was substantial doubt about the [population]," Mr Benson-Pope said.

"I am trying to strike a balance between good development of the resource and employment and economic issues."

Southern blue whiting is caught off the southern end of the South Island towards the sub-Antarctic Islands and most is exported. It had a total export value of almost $30 million in 2002.

The valuable hoki catch, worth more than $200 million last year and New Zealand's biggest fishery, is almost certain to be reduced for this fishing season after research showed the population in steep decline.

Southern blue whiting quota had already been cut last fishing year, from 30,000 tonnes to 25,000 tonnes.

Mr Benson-Pope also raised the squid quota in the Southern Ocean, giving fishers a $13 million quota-boost amounting to a further 13,000 tonnes on top of the existing 44,000 tonnes.

The decisions come as research points to New Zealand's fish stocks coming under increasing pressure. Research has shown a valuable snapper fishery off the North Island west coast could be at half the level considered sustainable.

Mr Benson-Pope would not be drawn on other quota cuts. He is due to make decisions from next month when he will get a final report on the state of some of the most valuable fishing stocks.

Where scientific assessments of stocks was in doubt, he said those decisions would be "conservative".

"I will come down on the side of protecting the resource rather than allowing fishing levels that may be risky."

Yesterday he took the unusual step of notifying squid fishers by letter of the increased take while also telling them to reduce bycatch of endangered species.

Forest and Bird spokesman Barry Weeber said a 30 per cent increase in the squid fishery could mean up to 100 more seabirds, including endangered albatross, being killed.

Quota moves

* Southern blue whiting quota unchanged.

* Quota had been cut last fishing year, from 30,000 tonnes to 25,000 tonnes.

* Squid quota in the Southern Ocean increased 13,000 tonnes on top of the existing 44,000 tonnes.

Herald Feature: Conservation and Environment