Maori Television's Native Affairs programme for September 8, 2008 investigates the challenges facing Maori as overfishing continues to threaten New Zealand's marine and freshwater fisheries (watch video here).
Maori own 40% of New Zealand's commercial fishing quota, 100% of the customary fishing quota and 20% of the aquaculture industry. For them, the fisheries are not only an economic resouce but very much a matter of kaitiakitanga (broadly interpreted as guardianship), as is the case for many Pakeha New Zealanders who increasingly are concerned about the sustainability of the fisheries.
The Fisheries Act of 1996 adopted the precautionary principle as the guide to sustainable fisheries management under a property rights Quota Management System (QMS). Under the Act, the Minister of Fisheries must maintain stocks at or above a level that can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). Having determined this, the Minister then sets the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), the global quota for each species under management.
In February 2008 the High Court ruled in an action brought by commercial quota holders that the Minister could not reduce TAC for an orange roughy fishery because under section 13 of the Act for any fishery, he or she must have received estimates of the current stock level of the fishery as well as its target stock level. But such information is currently available at reasonable cost or based on available research for very few fisheries.
Subsequently, the Government has moved to amend section 13 to permit TACs to be set based upon methods applied prior to the court's ruling, namely modelled estimates of biomass and alternative indicators of current fish stocks. The amendment bill is currently before Parliament.