Hon Pete Hodgson                                                                                                       back to home page
Minister of Fisheries

Dear Sir
Thank you for your letter on the Review of Sustainability Measures and other Management Controls for the 2000-01 Fishing Year.

Please accept the following submission on Yellowtail Kingfish Seriola lalandi lalandi in New Zealand

Stakeholder status

I represent the Tolaga Bay Boating and Fishing Club, Gisborne Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club, Gisborne Surfcasters Club, Gisborne East Cape Charter Boat Operators, Kakariki Adventure Tours NZ Ltd, Tolaga Bay East Cape Charters and the recreational fishers who fish from charter boats in this area.

As well as representing the above organisations and individuals my credentials in claiming stakeholder status are: over 6 years involvement as a charter boat operator, preceded by 15 years as a commercial fisherman.
In those 6 years I have made a speciality of guiding by clients to big Kingfish.

In the three years 1996 - 98 over 30% of all Kingfish tagged and released in the country were released from my boat Osprey, in the 1998-99 year that percentage rose to 69%. I expect the percentage for the 2000 year to be similar or slightly higher than the 99 year. I therefore consider myself a major stakeholder in the recreational fishery for Kingfish. We are actively and successfully promoting this fishery to overseas anglers, (see www.charterfishing.co.nz ) and what is to me an obvious sharp decline in stock size is of grave concern.

Size limit

In reply to your question. Should research be conducted to
determine the value of increasing the minimum legal size beyond 65cm?
It is my understanding that the minimum size was introduced to allow Kingfish to breed before they could be taken. The 65mm size was based on information on overseas sub-species as no research had been done at the time on our New Zealand Kingfish. Since then NIWA has conducted studies in relation to aquaculture of Kingfish which have accurately determined the size at which maturity is reached.
If the reason for a minimum size is to allow breeding before harvest then the minimum size must be set at a measurement that allows Kingfish to reach maturity before they can be taken.
Recent NIWA research has clearly shown that a 65cm minimum size will not achieve this objective. Therefore the minimum size should be raised to a size which will achieve the desired outcome.
Ministry scientific staff should be well aware of the findings of the NIWA study and should be able to use those results to set a realistic minimum size, which will achieve the objective of allowing breeding before harvest without requiring farther research.

Net mesh size

I believe there are no commercial set net permits to target Kingfish therefor a set net size would only impact on recreational fishers. There must be very few that actively target Kingfish with set nets so a mesh size would impact on few fishers.
It is our opinion that a ban on target netting for kingfish would be of more value.
If it is necessary to have a minimum mesh size, it is my personal experience with set nets as a commercial fisherman that 100mm is far to small for Kingfish, a more realistic size would be 150mm

Kingfish as a QMS species

It is my understanding that as a fourth schedule species Kingfish are to be brought into the Quota Management System and that this is to happen within your term in office.
As the minister presiding over what will effectively be the fate of Kingfish I would like to bring to your attention two points:

            1. That in recent years there has been a marked decline in numbers of fish available.

             2. There is a widespread belief among recreational fishers that Kingfish, as an extremely valuable internationally recognised species of game fish should be afforded the same non-commercial status that has proved so successful for Marlin in New Zealand.

Point 1. Stock decline

Over the last five years and in particular in the last three, I have become increasingly concerned by a sharp decline in Kingfish numbers.

The method I use to target Kingfish is to use a sounder to identify schools over off shore reefs, an acoustic survey the scientists would call it. This means I actually see the size of the schools as we fish them, what concerns me is the decline in numbers of fish in the schools.

This past summer I estimate that fish numbers were about 25% of three years ago, one reef, which has always attracted large numbers of fish, has this year been abandoned completely by Kingfish.

My contention of a stock decline is supported by reports of lower than normal recreational catches from around the country over the past year. A decrease in estimated recreational catch from MoF surveys between 1991 and 1996 which appears to be a continuing trend.

Fishery assessment plenary reports show a drop in commercial catch over the last three years, in particular a drop from 427 tons in 1997 to 326 tons in 1998. The rise again to 406 tons in the 1999 can be explained by the large by-catch from the new pilchard purse seine fishery that added considerable effort in fisheries management areas 1 and 9.

NZ gamefish tagging results from NIWA also show a marked decrease in the number of Kingfish tagged and released over the same period.

I believe NIWA have been asked by MoF to collate information on Kingfish and make recommendations to MoF as to what information might be required to monitor or assess Kingfish in the future. The results of this work will be used by MoF to determine the nature and extent of the work required for a Kingfish stock assessment project proposed
for the 2000/2001 fishing year I expect the results of that stock assessment to reinforce my contention of a sharp decline in numbers.

No doubt any observations I make will be called anecdotal and unscientific, but as there are few permits to target Kingfish, few commercial fishers actually go looking for them and there has been no stock assessment done other than by commercial catch records coupled with various estimates of recreational catch. On the other hand I must actively pursue Kingfish in order that my clients can catch bigger, better and more than they can catch elsewhere. To do this I must know where and when to find them and have a good idea of the numbers likely to be encountered. I have done this for 6 years and this experience has left me in no doubt that there are far less Kingfish now than there have been in past years.

Point 2. Kingfish as a non commercial species

There is nothing in Fisheries or any other legislation that says every fish species must be harvested commercially.

It is not greed or 'wanting them for ourselves' that motivates this proposal. It is sound economic sense that a species, recognised and renowned by anglers world wide as a game fish, be afforded non-commercial status.

Your recent speech to the SeaFIC Conference 2000 shows you are well aware of the value placed on Kingfish by anglers world wide and of the need to maximise economic returns on fish caught.

Recreational value

The 1999 report Value of NZ Recreational Fishing states: "The fish species that is valued the highest in New Zealand recreational fishing on a fishing trip is Kingfish, which adds $181.10 to the average willingness to pay for a fishing trip".

This is far higher for overseas anglers who come here because New Zealand Kingfish are the biggest in the world.

As an example a Japanese angler who fished with us in April 2000 spent $10,000 in the Gisborne area alone, this does not include international or internal air travel, three nights in a top Auckland hotel, a night in the Auckland Casino or meals. I would be very surprised if his week in New Zealand cost him less than $20,000 and for this he killed ONE Kingfish the fillets of which he took home to Japan. In his three days fishing he also released 12 other Kingfish the biggest of which was over 25kg.
That was his second trip here this year, and he will be back, he has left fishing gear with us so he doesn't have to bring it with him next time.

The report Value of NZ Recreational Fishing finds that the on average it cost a recreational fisher $29.83 for each kilogram of Kingfish caught. Compare that with the return from a commercially caught Kingfish, at an average retail value of $7 per kg, and it is very obvious Kingfish are of far greater value to the country as a recreational species.

Recreational attitude

The March 2000 report: Motivations and Perceptions of Seawater Recreational Fishers concluded: Only 18% of recreational fishers stated getting fresh fish or a food supply as their prime motivation for fishing and that 61% would definitely go fishing if all fish had to be released back to the water.

The report Value of NZ Recreational Fishing states: "Kingfish is primarily a recreational sporting fish. It is one of the prime fish targeted by tourists. As kingfish grow to world record sizes in New Zealand it is one of the species most hunted for in the North Island. This implies that there is no close substitute for catching a kingfish - people are not catching it for eating motives they are catching it for other recreational motives"

Kingfish are held in such esteem that anglers are happy to release most and in a lot of instances all they catch. The 1997-98 Survey of Recreational Fishing from Charter Boats found that 60% of kingfish caught from charter boats were released. This compares exactly with the report, Value of NZ Recreational Fishing, that finds for every 1 kingfish caught 0.4 are kept.

In most parts of New Zealand, with a few notable exceptions, kingfish are considered an exceptional catch, anglers who target kingfish will only occasionally succeed in landing one, when they do they are likely to release it. Value of NZ Recreational Fishing, states that 72% of anglers who target kingfish keep none.
Recreational anglers do not considered Kingfish to be very good eating, more preferred food species are usually available, meaning the release of a kingfish is no sacrifice.

Commercial catch

The Fishery assessment plenary estimates the MCY for Kingfish at 260 ton well below the historical and present catch.
I understand that about 21 tons of Kingfish are taken annually under permit the rest of the commercial catch, between 300 and 450 tons, are taken as accidental by-catch.

Given that most of the catch is taken as accidental by-catch and that each company only lands a relatively small quantity. I contend that the loss of Kingfish to the commercial sector will not cause serious economic harm to commercial fisherman or to the export markets for seafood.

Compared with the 140,000 tons of Kingfish farmed annually in Japan the New Zealand total commercial catch will not be missed.


NIWA are at present undertaking a study on the feasibility of farming Kingfish in New Zealand http://www.niwa.cri.nz/articles/fisheries1.html. Given the overseas history of aquaculture of this species it is highly likely they will be farmed here for overseas markets in the near future. This will make a wild catch unnecessary.

Maori catch

I know of no customary Maori catch in the area I represent. Should there be any customary catch in other parts of the country this will not be affected by a non-commercial status and can only be enhanced by a healthy fish stock that a recreational regime would promote.

In respect to the 20% of new quota pledged to Maori; if the TACC is set at zero 20% of zero is still zero.

Mortality waste

There will certainly be some waste through mortality if all commercially caught Kingfish are required to be released, but research has shown Kingfish to be a tough species that can survive handling. Hence the proposal by your department to revoke the exemption that has allowed Kingfish of less than 65cm taken by trawl to be kept.

Even if half the Kingfish released by commercial fishers died (unlikely mortality would be that high) this would still mean over 200 tons per year retained to promote a rebuild of the stocks.

Recreational accountability

Under a non-commercial regime anglers would be prepared to play their part in a stock rebuild. For a better chance of catching a Kingfish in the future anglers would have no problem accepting an increased size limit to above breeding size (about 83 cm) and a decreased bag limit of two or even one fish.

It should be noted that in the Bay of Plenty charter operators voluntarily restrict their clients to one fish per person per day, of a minimum size of 90cm. I have a similar policy of restricting my clients to less than the legal limit, which all are happy to observe.


It is difficult to assess the full benefits of recreational fishing for Kingfish, present domestic monetary value has been put at $13,400,000 per year. There are also many recreation and lifestyle benefits that cannot be quantified. Overseas angler input has not been studied and this is where the greatest benefits to the country can accrue. The declaration of a non-commercial regime and the strong fishery it will promote will attract many more overseas anglers.

I note your long list of portfolios and that a strong internationally promoted recreational fishery for kingfish would impact favourably on several of your areas of responsibility, namely Small Business, Economic Development and Regional Development. Obviously the tourism service sector would also benefit as well as the country as a whole from the inflow of overseas funds.

In Conclusion

You will note that on my web site www.charterfishing.co.nz I give a written guarantee; if I take a client out to catch a Kingfish they will catch at least one or I will give them a free day fishing.
Nowhere else in the world will you find such a guarantee.
A charter captain from Australia told me recently "I could have done that 5 years ago but not now".

It is in your hands whether I am able to offer that guarantee into the future, or, as in Australia, the guarantee, or even the chance, of catching one of these magnificent fighting fish becomes a thing of the past.

Bert Lee
PO Tolaga Bay
Ph-Fax 06 862 6715
E-mail bert@charterfishing.co.nz                                                                                                             back to home page