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Contradicting Shaun Lee’s Billfish Assertions

 |  Phillip Clow  | 

While we are aware that you have withdrawn the opinion piece from Shaun Lee, which expressed his concern about “a dramatic reduction in commercial swordfish landings during the last ten years,” I set out some facts which contradict his assertions.

Shaun suggested that the reduction in landings was likely caused by a change in population, fishing gear or misreporting of catch. In fact, there are several reasons for a reduction in the NZ commercial swordfish catch over the last ten years which aren’t related to the above.The primary one is reduced commercial fishing activity targeting this species.

The graph (above) shows a significant reduction in commercial vessels from 2012-2013 up to 2021-22. It is taken from a Fisheries New Zealand Annual Review Report for HMS Fisheries 2022/23.

During recent years surface longline operators have switched to targeting southern

bluefin tuna in this area. The world share (quota) of this migratory species has been increased several times, from which New Zealand is allocated a proportion of the global total allowable catch. The NZ TACC in 2011/12 was 413 tonnes rising to 1197 tonnes for 2023/24 allowing commercial operators to stay in this more lucrative fishery for longer.

Simply put, kiwi commercial operators are switching species. An example I’m aware of is a top NZ operator who once landed 120-140 tonne of swordfish annually, who is now landing in the vicinity of 20 tonne because of the above reason.

This is totally unrelated to any population changes for swordfish. The stock was recently assessed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in 2021 as being unlikely to be overfished or experiencing overfishing (<40% probability).

It is also unfair to suggest that maybe fishers aren’t declaring catch.That doesn’t match real-world experience. Remember, these commercial fishers are now subject to electronic reporting and monitoring with cameras. Swordfish is a New Zealand quota species which is illegal to discard apart from juvenile fish that is likely to survive. It is a valuable fish in the market place and plenty of ACE (annual catch entitlement) is available for fishers to lease. In short, there is no reason for any commercial fisher to avoid reporting swordfish catch.

I hope this letter can put to rest any misconceptions about what is happening with this fishery. Commercial fishers can be easy to blame when things are changing and the facts are not understood however in this case there is a sound reason for a catch profile change in the Commercial Swordfish Fishery.

While we are aware that you have withdrawn the opinion piece from Shaun Lee, which expressed his concern about “a dramatic reduction in commercial swordfish landings during the last ten years,” I set out some facts which contradict his assertions.

Shaun suggested that the reduction in landings was likely caused by a change in population, fishing gear or misreporting of catch. In fact, there are several reasons for a reduction in the NZ commercial swordfish catch over the last ten years which aren’t related to the above.The primary one is reduced commercial fishing activity targeting this species.

The graph (above) shows a significant reduction in commercial vessels from 2012-2013 up to 2021-22. It is taken from a Fisheries New Zealand Annual Review Report for HMS Fisheries 2022/23.

During recent years surface longline operators have switched to targeting southern

bluefin tuna in this area. The world share (quota) of this migratory species has been increased several times, from which New Zealand is allocated a proportion of the global total allowable catch. The NZ TACC in 2011/12 was 413 tonnes rising to 1197 tonnes for 2023/24 allowing commercial operators to stay in this more lucrative fishery for longer.

Simply put, kiwi commercial operators are switching species. An example I’m aware of is a top NZ operator who once landed 120-140 tonne of swordfish annually, who is now landing in the vicinity of 20 tonne because of the above reason.

This is totally unrelated to any population changes for swordfish. The stock was recently assessed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in 2021 as being unlikely to be overfished or experiencing overfishing (<40% probability).

It is also unfair to suggest that maybe fishers aren’t declaring catch.That doesn’t match real-world experience. Remember, these commercial fishers are now subject to electronic reporting and monitoring with cameras. Swordfish is a New Zealand quota species which is illegal to discard apart from juvenile fish that is likely to survive. It is a valuable fish in the market place and plenty of ACE (annual catch entitlement) is available for fishers to lease. In short, there is no reason for any commercial fisher to avoid reporting swordfish catch.

I hope this letter can put to rest any misconceptions about what is happening with this fishery. Commercial fishers can be easy to blame when things are changing and the facts are not understood however in this case there is a sound reason for a catch profile change in the Commercial Swordfish Fishery.


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