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Forest & Bird has won a High Court legal decision confirming tarakihi catch limit decisions must put sustainability before the commercial interests of the fishing industry.

The High Court decision, released today, confirmed in 2019 the Minister of Fisheries set the tarakihi commercial catch limit inappropriately by factoring a voluntary industry fishing plan into the decision while ignoring his Ministry's own policies.

“The High Court has confirmed fishing decisions must must put sustainability before the commercial interests of the fishing industry,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague.

“This is a victory for everyone who wants to bring back healthy ecosystems, and end inappropriate decision-making that favors commercial fishing industry interests at the expense of nature.

“People talk about how much more fish there used to be in the sea around New Zealand. The over-exploitation of the tarakihi fishery is an example of what needs to change to bring back nature.”

"The Government must now use a scientific, legal approach to managing fish stocks, rather than relying on voluntary plans, and uncertain outcomes offered by the industry,” said Mr Hague. 

"It's a disgrace the tarakihi stock of the entire eastern coast of the country has been fished down to just 15% of their natural population. 
 
“The Industry Rebuild Plan shouldn't have been allowed to replace an appropriate catch limit. There is no way to determine what impact the industry plan will have, because the plan is voluntary. Fisheries NZ’s own advice was they weren’t sure whether the Industry Rebuild Plan would deliver an accelerated rate of rebuild,” Mr Hague says.

“The Fisheries Act is far from perfect, and it needs a significant overhaul to bring fisheries management into the 21st century, but even under the current system, fish stocks should be managed sustainably.

"The High Court decision supports Forest & Bird's position, and upholds the importance of the environment and ocean ecosystems."

What the Court said: 
“I find that the Minister did make an error in law in that he did not make an assessment of the period of the rebuild appropriate to the East Coast tarakihi, as required by s 13(2)(b)(ii) of the Act before applying social, cultural and economic factors to the determination of the way and rate of rebuild.”  

What this means: 
The Minister must first work out what is required for sustainability before taking into account the industry’s commercial interests. The environment comes first. 
 
What the Court said 
“The guidance on probability in the Harvest Strategy Standard and the Harvest Strategy Standard Operational Guidelines was a mandatory consideration...  the Minister failed to have regard to this relevant consideration when making the 2019 Decision.” 

What this means:
The Minister should have taken into account the Harvest Strategy Standard and the Harvest Strategy Standard Operational Guidelines that required the tarakihi to be rebuilt faster.  Future fisheries decisions will need to apply this approach 
 
What the Court said:
“It does not necessarily follow that the Industry Rebuild Plan was also relevant to setting the period appropriate to the stock... That is determined having regard to the biological characteristics of the stock and any environmental conditions affecting the stock.  I conclude that the Industry Rebuild Plan is not therefore relevant to setting the period appropriate to the stock.” 

“I agree with Forest & Bird that the Industry Rebuild Plan was the significant factor which influenced the Minister to set a longer time period than he had indicated was necessary in 2018... I find that the Minister did have regard to the Industry Rebuild Plan in setting the TAC, notwithstanding that the Industry Rebuild Plan was a not a relevant factor in relation to the period appropriate to the stock.” 

What this means:
When deciding how long a fish stock should take to recover the Minister should consider the biology of the fish, not a voluntary industry plan.

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