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New Zealand’s sovereignty within its 12-nautical mile territorial sea is subject to rights and duties under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As a signatory to UNCLOS, foreign vessels have the right of ‘‘innocent passage’’ in New Zealand’s territorial sea.
The right of innocent passage also applies to domestic vessels. It even applies to no-take marine reserves. The public has the right to access these reserves, even when transiting through with fish on board caught outside the reserves.
However, the management of blue cod has brought about some exceptions to the right of innocent passage, beginning in the Marlborough Sounds.
As of 2011, several management rules were put in place to continue rebuilding the blue cod fishery in the Sounds. These rules included a daily bag limit of two fish inside the Sounds, and a three-fish daily limit outside the Sounds (in the Challenger [East] area). Furthermore, a rule was imposed that prohibited transiting through the Sounds while possessing three blue cod caught outside the Sounds.
In 2015, the two-fish daily bag limit was applied to both the Marlborough Sounds and the Challenger (East) area, thus removing the ‘‘transit rule’’.
In 2017, Fisheries New Zealand (Ministry for Primary Industries) began developing a National Blue Cod Strategy, though its focus has been largely on the South Island blue cod fishery. The strategy’s rule changes go into effect on July 1.
Some rules are based on a traffic light system whereby blue cod daily bag limits correspond to colours reflecting the health of the fishery in different areas. A green area’s daily bag limit is 15 blue cod, while an amber area’s daily limit is 10 blue cod. A red area’s limit is two blue cod.
However, some discrete areas have different daily bag limits. Inside the Kaikoura Marine Area the daily limit is six blue cod.
The inner fiords have a daily limit of three blue cod, with certain Sounds having a one blue cod limit. Inside taiapure the daily limit is two blue cod.
Here’s the catch. When fishing in an amber or green area but needing to transit through a red or amber area, respectively, to return to where your boat was launched, you must not exceed those areas’ lower daily bag limits.
In other words, there is no ability to transit through an area with a larger catch taken outside that area. This ‘‘transit rule’’ impacts on fishing in the Kaikoura, Canterbury and Otago regions.
For example, after fishing in the green area (15 blue cod limit) south and east of Taiaroa Head, you will be limited to 10 blue cod when transiting through the amber coloured Otago Harbour.
Even if your favoured fishing grounds are beyond the 12-nautical mile territorial sea, the day’s catch must not exceed the lowest daily bag limit area that you must transit through to return to the launch site.
While it is illegal to catch the daily bag limit in one area, then catch the limit in another area, there are exceptions for taiapure and the inner fiords (red areas).
You can take the lower bag limit and then fish in the surrounding area to take the higher bag limit.
You can also transit through the inner fiords and certain taiapure with catch taken outside those areas. In other transiting situations the lowest bag limit applies.
The transit rule only applies to blue cod. Another rule that only applies to blue cod is that it must be landed in a measurable state (i.e. whole or gutted), if not consumed immediately while on board. All existing rules continue to apply to bycatch species.
It is highly advisable that you carefully consider all blue cod rule changes in your area and surrounding areas before fishing from July 1 at www.fisheries.govt.nz/rules
You will have opportunities to provide feedback on the rule changes.
A suggested solution for transiting through Otago Harbour is a corridor for the innocent passage of the 15 blue cod daily limit taken south and east of Taiaroa Head.
- Dr Randall Bess is an adviser for Fish Mainland, a not-for-profit organisation whose purpose is to co-ordinate, represent, and promote the interests of the South Island marine recreational fishing community.