Fishing for today, and tomorrow

By Owen Symmans

Owen Symmans The seafood industry is a success story, but sometimes an unseen one. Many don't see this diverse industry going about its business on a daily basis and an even larger number of people are unaware of the significance and success of our country's sustainable management regime, known as the quota management system.

Seafood exports are worth more than $1 billion, making the industry one of the country's biggest earners, and in spite of the present economic climate it is growing.

Internationally our seafood, both wild-catch and aquaculture, is sought after not only for its quality but also because of how it is harvested and managed.

Sustainable. How many of us really know what it means?

For the seafood industry it means to keep something going over time or continuously.

Fishermen like to put it another way: "fish to fish another day".

Our seafood industry has a strong and obvious interest in ensuring there are fish for future generations and that the environment for that seafood, be it aquaculture or wild fish, remains sustainable.

Put simply, if there are no fish, then there is no business.

We also understand that to do that, all aspects of the environment being fished or farmed need to be carefully considered. Many innovations to mitigate against seabird and mammal interactions with fishing have been initiated by industry. We are considered a world leader in fisheries management.

Introduced in 1986, the quota management system provides for sustainable use.

Industry pays more than $20 million a year for the research that evaluates the status of fish stocks.

Using the assessment data, the Minister of Fisheries then sets an annual total allowable catch limit for each quota management area.

The catch limit is to ensure fish stocks continue to be sustainable. If a fishery does not meet strict criteria then the catch allowance can be reduced or, in extreme circumstances, there is the option to close it until it recovers.

Industry has in the past sought reductions for catches and will continue to do so where there is concern over a fishery.

It is 23 years since quota management was introduced and the results speak for themselves.

We are producing a sustainable, sought-after product and can be justifiably proud that we are achieving this for now and for the future.

Some fisheries are seeking independent verification of the status of our fisheries management through the Marine Stewardship Council.

The council is an independent, global, non-profit organisation which has developed a certification standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries.

This council was set up by the World Wide Fund for Nature and Unilever in 1997, but is now run as an independent charitable trust based in London.

At this year's Seafood Industry Conference, Will Martin, chairman of the board of trustees of the Marine Stewardship Council, announced that five more of our fisheries - hoki is already certified - are embarking on the certification assessment process.

Mr Martin said our industry was "taking a bold step by putting a third of their fisheries into our programme ... this will encourage other fisheries to adopt the well-managed fishery practices that New Zealand is renowned for".

Also at the industry's conference was Miguel Jorge, director of the marine programme from WWF International, who travelled from Geneva to attend.

The industry was pleasantly surprised by Jorge's response to the "Kiwi approach".

In announcing this year's SmartFishing competition he publicly thanked New Zealand fishers for their innovation and spirit and said he was "happy to be working with industry in a collaborative spirit".

This is great news for our fisheries and aquaculture.

We support open and transparent practice with interested parties and we will remain focused on what is best for the future of the resource.

We can then continue to provide food and much needed income without harming the long-term sustainability of the resource.

It's a delicate balancing act, but one that all interest groups are becoming more proficient at as time goes on. The story of the industry's success lies in this collaborative spirit - 23 years ago we worked with the government to establish a regime to protect and manage our marine resource.

Today, we continue to aim for the same audacious yet achievable goal: to ensure that New Zealand can reap the benefits of a carefully managed resource.

Everyone can be proud of our international reputation. It is justified, it is sustainable and it will continue to grow.

* Owen Symmans is chief executive of the Seafood Industry Council.

Read this article on the New Zealand Herald website