Trailblazers: The New Zealand Story – Fishing Reforms & Sustainability

Trailblazers: The New Zealand Story – Fishing Reforms & Sustainability


One by one, Rogernomics was transforming many industries. It was now time to reform the fishing industry. In 1986, the government, scientists and the fishing community worked together to come up with a new system called the Quota Management System, or QMS. The QMS would determine how many fish of each species could be harvested each year, while ensuring fish stock sustainability. Catch limits were then put in place. So in the early 80s, we had a change of government who looked to free up our economy, to set quite strong rules, but allow that to form an even playing field for private enterprise to develop things. We decided that the only way to do it was to set a conservation limit, a quota or a total allowable catch, on each of the fisheries and allow the industry the flexibility to determine what method they used and how they harvested. But the QMS didn’t stop there. Each individual fisher or fishing company was allotted a percentage of the total harvest based on how much they had caught in the past. That percentage could be sold or leased like any other property right. Now the fishers could trade, sell, or buy more quota based on their own individual needs. The incentive changed from catching as much as you can, to making the best economic return on the catch within your quota. So at that time, I was a much younger fishermen; wanted to keep building. So I thought I’ll buy some quota and at that time, five ton of quota was worth about $12,000 a ton to buy, $60,000, and my home was worth $120,000. It was a big call to invest in a piece of paper for half the value of your home. My wife was very worried about it. To buy a piece of paper half the value of your home, she was not too happy about mortgaging the house to do that. Just as there’s a limit to the land that’s available for development, there’s a limit to the number of fish and ocean space. With quota ownership, fishers gained a direct benefit from protecting the fish population and the ocean environment, much the same as farmers gain direct benefit from protecting their livestock and farmland. And so, a fishery on the brink of disaster started making a comeback. The fishers achieved what previous regulations failed to accomplish.

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