A Forest & Bird win in the Court of Appeal today sends a clear message that the Government must put science and sustainability first in making fisheries catch limit decisions.
This comes a day after another significant oceans win with tripled protection in the Hauraki Gulf Tīkapa Moana.
“We want to bring back abundant oceans, with the huge fish numbers that were well known from the past,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Nicola Toki. “The Court of Appeal has reaffirmed that science and sustainability come first when restoring the heavily overfished tarakihi fishery.”
Today’s decision is the latest in four years of legal proceedings, after the Government inappropriately prioritised economic factors and a voluntary industry plan over effective regulation to restore the depleted tarakihi fishery.
Forest & Bird won a High Court case in 2021, showing that Government decisions on the allowable commercial catch of tarakihi must put sustainability before the commercial interests of the fishing industry. Industry lobby Fisheries Inshore New Zealand appealed the High Court decision, leading to today’s Appeal Court findings.
“Forest & Bird shouldn’t have to send fisheries decisions to a judicial review by the Courts, but when the future of our oceans is at stake, we will not hesitate to act,” Ms Toki said.
The Court of Appeal confirmed that the period to rebuild fish stocks must be set using scientific factors, with other considerations only influencing the way and rate at which the rebuild happens – not the timeframe.
This means the Minister can only vary when and how big cuts to allowable catches are made, or change other measures such to protect social, cultural or economic considerations, if the decisions are consistent with the scientifically-based timeline for restoring fish stock.
“It’s an absolute no brainer that when a fishery is overfished, as it has been in this case, the time taken to rebuild the stock should reflect the science – not voluntary plans with highly uncertain outcomes,” says Ms Toki.
“It’s only with sound scientific decisions that we should give consideration to the social, cultural and economic factors. If we don’t base these decisions on good science, we lose species forever – and that is unforgivable in a biodiversity crisis.”
This decision is not just important for restoring the tarakihi fishery but is also important for every fishery that gets into trouble because of overfishing.
“Bringing a fish species back to abundance faster is better for everyone,” says Ms Toki, “and their survival ensures they remain of cultural, economic and social importance for generations to come.”