A goodbye to Peter Stevens – a guest column by his mate, Daryl Sykes

At a time when the QMS seems to be under increasing scrutiny by ill-informed critics there is perhaps a certain irony that one of the most fervent champions of fishing reforms in the 1970s and 1980s has passed away in his retirement.

For all those who knew him and many who knew of him, Peter James Stevens was a formidable character in his younger days.

As a fisherman and a stalwart of both the Wellington Trawlermen’s Association and the Napier Fishermen’s Association, Peter ramped up the pressure on the Government of the day to prohibit foreign flagged vessels and to reform fisheries legislation. The 1983 Fisheries Act came about because of his lobbying of Fisheries Minister Duncan McIntyre, backed up by the membership of port associations around New Zealand and the threat of a massive flotilla of commercial vessels blockading the port of Wellington (a tactic put to good use on another later occasion but not on the same scale as planned for April 1979).

The Effort Reduction Scheme that he promoted through his links to the NZ Federation of Commercial Fishermen was a catalyst for the development and implementation of the Quota Management System. Peter coined the expression ‘too many fishermen chasing too few fish’. (He also quite famously remarked in a speech to a Federation annual conference that ‘he who owns quota is king’, not that he would ever know himself – he missed the relevant catch history years because of his representation and advocacy work and did not qualify for even a notional history and ITQ allocation).

When he became aware of aspects of the QMS that negatively impacted on incumbent fishermen Peter went to bat for the buy-back scheme, what we now know as 28N rights, aggregation limits, and minimum quota holdings; and got all of them over the line despite the reluctance of officials.

One of his most notable achievements and in short order also one of his greatest disappointments was the design and implementation of a species to species trade known as the “by-catch trade off scheme”. Peter was alarmed when political pressure was brought to bear on having the scheme dismantled because he knew that unreported discards were inevitable in the mixed species demersal fisheries.

In his years as Executive Officer to the Federation, Peter strengthened the network of port associations around the country and forged strong links with fisheries and transport agencies and with the science community. Peter was persistent and persuasive in his dealings with various Ministers and officials and he made good use of the media, or even threats of the media.

His original four-page Federation newsletter published in 1982 was expanded to become a monthly full colour magazine that was without peer for a period. You are showing your age if you recall the poetry of Black Pete or the Mutter from Sandfly Beach and/or Mother of Ten from Waitara, and if you don’t recall, then rest assured you have missed some extremely entertaining and informative writing.

Peter was author, photographer, researcher, editor, and sold the advertising space as well. When he left the Federation, he was recruited by the Fishing Industry Board and then SeaFIC to produce the Professional Fisherman magazine which he did through to his retirement in 1998.

Peter departed the fishing industry with little fanfare or public acknowledgement. There were no gongs in the various Honours Lists but the friendships he forged during the years in which he had influence and authority endured to the end of his life. His fishing industry friends from the Forces of Good and Evil were there to help when needed and Peter was always very appreciative of their efforts and the occasional contact.

Peter died peacefully in Lower Hutt Hospital on July 16th and in accordance with his wishes, a private cremation was held. His ashes are to be scattered at the boundary of the bush and ocean where he hunted and fished as a young boy with his father. RIP.

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