It is true that the seafood industry is in fighting mode, as evidenced by a series of full-page ads we are running in the Dominion Post and the New Zealand Herald. However, there is a very good reason for that. Hundreds of small, family-owned fishing businesses are at stake if a review of the Hector’s and Māui dolphin Threat Management Plan sees tougher rules introduced.

Veronica Rotman, representing Our Sea Our Future, made a number of claims in her Newsroom article Fishing industry spin on Māui dolphin, many of which we disagree with. However, it is her assertion that “the social and financial costs” associated with this proposal are a “red herring” that we cannot let stand.

By MPI’s own figures, 237 fishermen will have 10 percent of their business gone at the most punitive option and 109 fishermen will lose 70 percent. And that is just the licensed permit holder. Those figures do not include crew or processing and retail staff. You can triple those numbers.

And for what?

Argue the semantics all you like, but there has been no death of a Māui dolphin attributed to commercial fishing since 2002. We acknowledge a capture in 2012 could have been a Māui or a Hector but no DNA test was carried out and it remains ‘unspecified’.

Since 2002, there have been ever increasing sanctions on commercial fishing in Māui territory. Some 6000 square kilometres of ocean is closed, and Rotman’s assertion that ‘set net observer coverage on the West Coast of the North Island is less than 1 percent’ must also be challenged. Government observer coverage is close to 100 percent in coastal set net fisheries. If the writer was including inner harbours such as Raglan and Kawhia she is being disingenuous. No Māui has ever been seen in those harbours, most likely because of the species’ dislike of muddy harbour beds, and even if there was a will to put observers on these small, one-man vessels it would be impossible.

The human cost of a proposal that will do little to save this dolphin is too much to pay. These fishermen are being offered no compensation nor any help to transition to other methods of fishing – even if that were possible.

Keith Mawson of Egmont Seafoods in New Plymouth says: “We are on the West Coast of the North Island. It is a really rough piece of water. There’s nowhere for these guys to hide when they go out fishing so they are limited to the number of days they can fish. These set net guys can get out there, set their gear, retrieve it tomorrow morning, set it again and be back in by 11 in the morning before the sea starts to get rough. With long lining or trawling they could be out there for days – and there are not many days on this coast that will allow that.”

There is also the small matter of quota for species other than the set net species they currently hold quota for. A transition to long line would mean the predominant species was snapper and they not only don’t hold that quota, they can’t purchase it.

These fishermen, supporting a couple of crew members have faced blow after blow to their businesses and incomes with successive changes to the Threat Management Plan over the years and have now so mitigated any risk that any further sanctions must be questioned.

The closures in 2012 took 95 percent of Rob Ansley’s fishery off him.

“I had four boats fishing into the factory and four of them stopped because it was too difficult. I had to carry on because I was the one who carried all the debt. I had 18 staff. I had to lay them all off.”

There are four options in this latest Threat Management Plan. Option one is the status quo with additional monitoring. And each successive option is more restrictive.

If Option 2 is introduced Ansley says he will be out of business and still owe the bank close to a million dollars.

This proposal will also have an impact on the species of fish you see in your fish shop.

Raglan Seafoods owner Mark Mathers sells gurnard, snapper, trevally and tarakihi.

“With no snapper quota available, the gurnard has the best return for the boats. We work in between the two and four-mile to keep away from the snapper. But if they push us out to four miles you won’t see gurnard in the shops again.”

And, all this, when the Threat Management Plan, MPI, DOC and NIWA scientists all agree that the biggest threat to the Māui is not fishing. It’s toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease found in cat faeces that gets into the water and infects Māui when they feed at harbour and estuary mouths. The science says it is killing 16 times more Māui than fishing. Unfortunately for the fishing industry, that is a much harder fix for the politicians.

So, we say to Veronica Rotman and others who are quick to opine from lofty, academic heights, the socio-economic impact of this proposal is not a “red herring”. Ask Keith, or Rob, or Mark.

Lesley Hamilton is the communications manager at Seafood New Zealand.

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