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Opinions

In support of commercial fishing – stating the case

The recent coverage of topics on trawl corridors and bottom trawling has been considerable and the view of the commercial fishing industry of which I am a part, needs to be heard.

I started commercial fishing in 1976 in Whitianga and have recently retired from active commercial skippering of our 17-metre commercial bottom longliner. This vessel is operating on the northeast, and west coast of the North Island. I am also currently president of the Whitianga and Coromandel Peninsula Commercial Fishermen’s Association.

I was also on the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Spatial Plan stakeholder working group as a commercial fishing representative on sedimentation threats involved with this Marine Park.

People are continuously associating trawling, Danish seining, and dredging to causing plumes of sediment which are detrimental to biodiversity. In my fishing career I have dredged, trawled and Danish seined. A trawl net and seine gear have to be moving forward efficiently. THEY have to get along the seafloor at anything from 2.5 – 3.5 knots in order to catch good swimmers like snapper, trevally and tarakihi. If your trawl doors (these rely on water pressure from forward motion to open the net), and foot rope, were not set up to skim over the sea floor, you would catch nothing, as you simply couldn’t pull it.

The technology for commercial fishing is improving, and as such, many of our fishers can pre-sell the fish they intend to harvest – which means commercial fishers will catch what they need for their customers and leave the rest in the ocean.

Skimming, not ploughing

Deep water, muddy sea floor requires an even lighter touch, as the mud can swallow your gear and instantly stop forward motion. A Danish seiner doesn’t use trawl doors in its operation but weighted rope in the vicinity of 22 mm diameter. This method also requires forward motion of the rope and net to catch fish, so again skims along the surface of the seafloor and is not dragged through it.

I have also scuba dived to observe the progress of a bottom trawl on sandy substrate in our waters, while it was working. I was watching for fish behaviour in front of the net, interestingly what I didn’t see at the time were “plumes” of sediment. In fact, there was very little disturbance. I assume this was because the seabed was sand, mud and shell, and relatively firm – like a lot of our inshore Hauraki Gulf Marine Park waters. Hence, I find it hard to quantify the said “plumes” of sea floor sediment caused by bottom trawl, dredge and Danish seine bottom contact when I see the amount of brown water exiting from the Peninsula’s catchment rivers and streams after a significant storm event.

People wring their hands and acknowledge the continuing negative effects of the sedimentation-based issue, but very little is done in addressing current and future threats. This sedimentation

issue is best observed in the Peninsula’s catchment rivers and streams after a significant storm event. It’s a fact that in 2023, both ex-tropical cyclone Hale, and cyclone Gabrielle were near misses for the Coromandel Peninsula yet caused catastrophic damage to the Hawkes Bay. We need to be addressing the issue of sediment runoff. Land uses such as plantation forestry on steep land, and the accompanying slash, can contribute significant sediment to the marine environment.

With regard to sea floor biodiversity protection; from my experience our trawlable waters have significant areas of flat hard sand, mixed with mud and shell, where bottom fishing is carried out. Alternatively, we also have seafloor areas that contain kelp growing on shell, along with areas that contain sponges and these areas require protection. We know these areas and that they bed protection.

Myth and misconceptions

Looking at the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park (HGMP) in Figure One; people may think that bottom trawling and Danish seining is carried out throughout the Marine Park, which is not the case.

Fisheries in the HGMP are highly regulated. Two key restrictions are that bottom trawling and Danish seining are entirely prohibited in 27% of the Park and there is a temporal Finnish prohibition that restricts catching of any finfish, by any method, within the Park, for six months over summer. On top of that, this Marine Park contains around 25% of rocky bottom areas which trawlers and Danish seiners do not operate in (as the equipment will get immediately stuck). We cannot trawl over the rocks – we work only on clear ground. Therefore, without allowing for the Park’s proposed incoming marine protection, trawling and Danish seine is already restricted to around 48% of the current Hauraki Gulf Marine Park area.

With regard to what dictates fish supply in local markets. The simple answer is economics. It is difficult to supply fish to local markets given the short shelf-life of chilled fish. When there is an oversupply of fish, and it is not sold locally, you are faced with expensive food waste, as the short shelf-life means fish cannot be on-sold from the local base in Whitianga. Instead, if it is moved to a distribution centre in Auckland, chilled fish can be moved between markets with no waste.

In the past commercial fishers have tried to sell from the wharf or through dealers who are able to facilitate sales onsite. Sales were inconsistent, and for the number of fish sold per day, it just wasn’t economically viable.

The industry estimates that 50% of fish commercially caught in the Marine Park is sold to people who inhabit the greater Auckland and Waikato area, which includes the Coromandel. By supplying restaurants, fish shops, and takeaway shops, we provide fish to those who do not have the time or resources to catch it themselves. Long lining is effective for some species, but many of those desired by consumers (such as trevally, kahawai, John dory, gurnard and tarakihi) are not caught by long lining in economically viable quantities. Trawl and Danish seine catch these fish for these markets.

It is confusing to see in the last article in the Informer, that Legasea is not anti-commercial fishing but says that the so called “sickness in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park” is contributable to bottom trawl, Danish seine, dredge and now bottom long line. I always thought long lining is a good way of catching fish.

Until we stop pointing the finger at any one industry and start working together on all the issues impacting the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, we will not be able to make any significant gains on the state of its health.

 |  Phillip Clow  |  ,
Commercial Fishing

The recent coverage of topics on trawl corridors and bottom trawling has been considerable and the view of the commercial fishing industry of which I am a part, needs to be heard.

I started commercial fishing in 1976 in Whitianga and have recently retired from active commercial skippering of our 17-metre commercial bottom longliner. This vessel is operating on the northeast, and west coast of the North Island. I am also currently president of the Whitianga and Coromandel Peninsula Commercial Fishermen’s Association.

I was also on the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Spatial Plan stakeholder working group as a commercial fishing representative on sedimentation threats involved with this Marine Park.

People are continuously associating trawling, Danish seining, and dredging to causing plumes of sediment which are detrimental to biodiversity. In my fishing career I have dredged, trawled and Danish seined. A trawl net and seine gear have to be moving forward efficiently. THEY have to get along the seafloor at anything from 2.5 – 3.5 knots in order to catch good swimmers like snapper, trevally and tarakihi. If your trawl doors (these rely on water pressure from forward motion to open the net), and foot rope, were not set up to skim over the sea floor, you would catch nothing, as you simply couldn’t pull it.

The technology for commercial fishing is improving, and as such, many of our fishers can pre-sell the fish they intend to harvest – which means commercial fishers will catch what they need for their customers and leave the rest in the ocean.

Skimming, not ploughing

Deep water, muddy sea floor requires an even lighter touch, as the mud can swallow your gear and instantly stop forward motion. A Danish seiner doesn’t use trawl doors in its operation but weighted rope in the vicinity of 22 mm diameter. This method also requires forward motion of the rope and net to catch fish, so again skims along the surface of the seafloor and is not dragged through it.

I have also scuba dived to observe the progress of a bottom trawl on sandy substrate in our waters, while it was working. I was watching for fish behaviour in front of the net, interestingly what I didn’t see at the time were “plumes” of sediment. In fact, there was very little disturbance. I assume this was because the seabed was sand, mud and shell, and relatively firm – like a lot of our inshore Hauraki Gulf Marine Park waters. Hence, I find it hard to quantify the said “plumes” of sea floor sediment caused by bottom trawl, dredge and Danish seine bottom contact when I see the amount of brown water exiting from the Peninsula’s catchment rivers and streams after a significant storm event.

People wring their hands and acknowledge the continuing negative effects of the sedimentation-based issue, but very little is done in addressing current and future threats. This sedimentation

issue is best observed in the Peninsula’s catchment rivers and streams after a significant storm event. It’s a fact that in 2023, both ex-tropical cyclone Hale, and cyclone Gabrielle were near misses for the Coromandel Peninsula yet caused catastrophic damage to the Hawkes Bay. We need to be addressing the issue of sediment runoff. Land uses such as plantation forestry on steep land, and the accompanying slash, can contribute significant sediment to the marine environment.

With regard to sea floor biodiversity protection; from my experience our trawlable waters have significant areas of flat hard sand, mixed with mud and shell, where bottom fishing is carried out. Alternatively, we also have seafloor areas that contain kelp growing on shell, along with areas that contain sponges and these areas require protection. We know these areas and that they bed protection.

Myth and misconceptions

Looking at the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park (HGMP) in Figure One; people may think that bottom trawling and Danish seining is carried out throughout the Marine Park, which is not the case.

Fisheries in the HGMP are highly regulated. Two key restrictions are that bottom trawling and Danish seining are entirely prohibited in 27% of the Park and there is a temporal Finnish prohibition that restricts catching of any finfish, by any method, within the Park, for six months over summer. On top of that, this Marine Park contains around 25% of rocky bottom areas which trawlers and Danish seiners do not operate in (as the equipment will get immediately stuck). We cannot trawl over the rocks – we work only on clear ground. Therefore, without allowing for the Park’s proposed incoming marine protection, trawling and Danish seine is already restricted to around 48% of the current Hauraki Gulf Marine Park area.

With regard to what dictates fish supply in local markets. The simple answer is economics. It is difficult to supply fish to local markets given the short shelf-life of chilled fish. When there is an oversupply of fish, and it is not sold locally, you are faced with expensive food waste, as the short shelf-life means fish cannot be on-sold from the local base in Whitianga. Instead, if it is moved to a distribution centre in Auckland, chilled fish can be moved between markets with no waste.

In the past commercial fishers have tried to sell from the wharf or through dealers who are able to facilitate sales onsite. Sales were inconsistent, and for the number of fish sold per day, it just wasn’t economically viable.

The industry estimates that 50% of fish commercially caught in the Marine Park is sold to people who inhabit the greater Auckland and Waikato area, which includes the Coromandel. By supplying restaurants, fish shops, and takeaway shops, we provide fish to those who do not have the time or resources to catch it themselves. Long lining is effective for some species, but many of those desired by consumers (such as trevally, kahawai, John dory, gurnard and tarakihi) are not caught by long lining in economically viable quantities. Trawl and Danish seine catch these fish for these markets.

It is confusing to see in the last article in the Informer, that Legasea is not anti-commercial fishing but says that the so called “sickness in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park” is contributable to bottom trawl, Danish seine, dredge and now bottom long line. I always thought long lining is a good way of catching fish.

Until we stop pointing the finger at any one industry and start working together on all the issues impacting the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, we will not be able to make any significant gains on the state of its health.