One of the country’s largest fishing charter boat operators says the new size limits for snapper in the Hauraki Gulf are having a disastrous effect on the local fishery.
“Instead of saving more snapper and allowing the fishery to rebuild, we are needlessly killing more fish than ever — and making the local shag population very happy!” says Andrew Somers, owner of Westhaven-based The Red Boats charter fleet.
On April 1, new regulations by the Ministry of Primary Industries raised recreational fishers’ minimum size limits for snapper from 27cm to 30cm. They also dropped the bag limit (the amount each fisher is allowed to take each day) from nine to seven snapper.
The stated aim of these reductions was to help the fishery rebuild but, according to Andrew Somers, it is having the opposite effect.
“A lot of the snapper in the Hauraki Gulf seem to be in the 27-30cm range.
Before the rules changed, our customers were able to catch their limit with very little wastage.
“Now, due to the new size limits, in order to catch a legal bag limit, we are having to return twice the amount of fish to the sea.”
He says that while that is good for the fishery in theory, in practice it is exactly the opposite.
“While we do our best to ensure these undersized snapper are properly and gently returned to the sea (so they have the best possible chance of survival) in effect we are just feeding the shags!”
Andrew Somers says that the Hauraki Gulf shag population has quickly realised that there are easy meals to be had at the back of the boats.
“The shags now just sit behind our boats waiting for us to release the fish, then swoop in and grab the snapper before they can escape. There is absolutely nothing we can do about it and it is such an incredible waste.”
As well as not being good for the fishery, Andrew Somers believes what is happening is also not good for the shags or for the Hauraki Gulf ecosystem.
“Instead of having to learn to hunt for their food, the shags have become lazy and now just hang around the back of the boats waiting to be fed. Long term, that can’t be good.”
Andrew Somers says he has no problem with the reduced bag limit. However, he believes the size limits need to be urgently reviewed, preferably before summer when, traditionally, there are more snapper and more fishers around.
“Before the size reduction, our clients used to catch an average of just 12-15 snapper before they had their legal maximum of nine.There was very little wastage.
“Now, in order to get just seven legal-sized snapper, they are having to catch 20- 25 fish. That means two out of every three snapper caught are being released and gobbled down by the shags.
“How can that possibly be good for the fishery?”