New Zealand’s international reputation at stake

June 15, 2016

For 30 years New Zealanders have been sold the line that our Quota Management System is a world leader when it comes to both protecting fish stocks and encouraging a culture of stewardship. Recent research has exposed an underbelly of widespread dumping, high grading and misreporting to maximise profits, irrespective of the environmental cost. Kiwis and the world have been sold a pup.

Brian Firman of LegaSea Hawkes Bay echoes the concerns of Napier residents and recreational fishermen when questioning the integrity of the Quota Management System (QMS).

“How can the people of Hawke’s Bay possibly have confidence in the quota system or in the Ministry’s ability to address our local concerns when our fishing has deteriorated so much and officials have been ignoring the blatant wastage occurring out at sea?

Image credit: Chris Parkinson.

“What’s even worse is that we now start to think that the issues raised so far are just symptoms of much bigger flaws in our management regime. Something has to change and only a broad based, independent inquiry into the quota system is going to be able to get to the bottom of this mess.”

Results from a worldwide study involving the University of Auckland reveal that our total catch is estimated to be 2.7 times more than what has been reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Between 1950-2013 New Zealand reported 15.3 million tonnes of catch. The report estimates another 24.7 million tonnes were not logged, most of it being unreported commercial catch and discarded fish. Recreational and customary catch is estimated to be 0.51 million tonnes, or 1.3% of the total catch, none of which was reported to the FAO.

Issues highlighted during numerous interviews with fishermen will seem familiar to Hawke’s Bay people, many of whom have first-hand experience of an ineffective regulatory regime and fish depletion. These issues include the routine dumping of quota species, falsifying statutory documents, black market activity and conspiracy.

LegaSea is one of several public interest groups calling for a Commission of Inquiry.

Spokesperson for LegaSea, Richard Baker, says the Commission needs to be given sufficient power to uncover and expose what is happening under the QMS and within the Ministry for Primary Industries.

“Our concern is that reports of widespread non-compliance with fishing rules by many trawl fishermen, the non-reporting of dolphin captures, and that officials failed to act against offenders further damages our international reputation,” said Baker.

Damning revelations
Reports show that officials were aware that between 20 to 100 percent of some quota fish were being discarded during every haul on trawlers operating inshore. And, it is estimated that only 42.5 percent of industrial catch by New Zealand vessels is reported.

The New Zealand catch reconstruction report is part of a global effort to identify the known inaccurate reporting of catches each year to the UN. A similar exercise has been undertaken in over 200 countries and coordinated by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

The research includes excerpts from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ compliance documents exposing widespread and known non-compliance by industrial fishing interests. These offences were allowed to continue unabated.

In effect, Ministry turned a blind eye to the mortality of endangered species and serious offences were allowed to escape prosecution. The research concludes that, “misreporting and dumping has been ignored for too long by officials”.

Napier based Jim Yeoman is President of the New Zealand Angling and Casting Association. He says local members are alarmed at the revelations and they are asking, “Is there a connection between the report and our declining catches over the past decade?” His members want to know the truth.

“As a self-professed 100% pure nation that is supposed to be looking after its natural resources this illegal behaviour is bad news for our reputation and cannot be condoned. At a local level the concern is for our members and families in need, the prevalent reports that perfectly edible fish are being regularly dumped ought to ring alarm bells.”

Where is the stewardship?
The QMS has repeatedly been described in terms of the incentives for stewardship and value creation, and that commercial harvesters would maximise value through innovation, and sustainability would be ensured because it was in the commercial harvesters’ self-interest.

Richard Baker says New Zealanders have been duped. “Clearly the QMS is not functioning at the high level that we have been led to believe.”

At a local level Hawkes Bay fisheries are not producing a reasonable return for a day’s recreational fishing effort and nor are they returning any decent commercial yields in terms of jobs and wealth for the region.

As for MPI compliance, locals are most interested in the outcome of a MPI investigation into an alleged local black market operation. In October 2015 MPI reported it had laid 380 charges against Hawke’s Bay Seafoods directors and associated companies.

Let’s quickly get to the truth
Baker continues, “While we’re not the only country under-reporting, we’re the only one that trumpets to all who will listen that we’ve had a ‘world-leading’ Quota Management System since 1986. Clearly not, as to be effective there has to be accurate reporting of all quota species.”

The strident denials then ‘shoot the messenger’ reactions to the research from Nathan Guy the Minister responsible, officials and commercial interests strongly suggests there is more truth to this story than lies.

For environmentally aware Kiwis our truth is fairly simple. What we hear about commercial fishing is thoroughly rinsed through the mesh of well-paid public relations firm. These PR experts carefully massage perceptions through clever messages, conveniently ignoring the abyss between the theoretical spin and numerous eyewitness accounts.

The QMS is nothing short of dysfunctional when there is so little oversight by the Ministry charged with managing our fisheries, and few opportunities for public oversight because there is such a tight rein kept on fisheries data due to confidentiality agreements between Ministry and their commercial fishing industry partners.

“LegaSea agrees with the researchers that we need a robust, critical review of the Quota Management System. We need to understand why the system makes people behave in such a reckless manner”, adds Mr. Firman.

The country and Hawke’s Bay in particular needs productive fisheries.

If New Zealand really does have the best and most envied fisheries management system in the world there ought to be no objection to a Commission of Inquiry examining all aspects of commercial fisheries management, compliance issues and public reporting. Anything less retains the odour of a cover-up and business as usual – a continuation of the truth being withheld behind a flimsy veil of confidentiality.

Shorts –

  • Between 1950-2013 New Zealand reported 15.3 million tonnes of catch to the United Nations. The report estimates another 24.7 million tonnes of catch, mostly unreported commercial catch and discarded fish.
  • Prior to the QMS total catch was estimated to be 2.7 times that reported to the UN. Since the introduction of the Quota Management System in 1986, estimated catch dropped to 2.1 times that reported to the UN.
  • Recreational and customary catch is estimated to be 0.51 million tonnes, or 1.3%. Not reported to the UN.
  • Only an estimated 42.5 percent of industrial catch by New Zealand flagged vessels was reported.
  • 42 percent of the industrial catch was caught by foreign-flagged vessels, which dominated the catching of hoki, squid, jack mackerels, barracouta and southern blue whiting – some of the largest fisheries and most misreported and discarded species.
  • Two Ministry investigations, Operation Achilles and Hippocamp, revealed officials decided not to prosecute commercial fishers filmed dumping some or all of their catch overboard.
  • MPI seems to have granted lawbreakers immunity from prosecution.
  • LegaSea has called for a Commission of Inquiry into the QMS and MPI operations.

About LegaSea Hawkes Bay
LegaSea Hawkes Bay was launched in 2014 to promote fisheries management practices that will allow for ‘more fish in the water’. LegaSea Hawkes Bay has been working with other LegaSea advocates to participate and contribute to the joint sector discussions, with the objective of improving the recreational fishing experience in the Hawkes Bay and surrounding waters. LegaSea Hawkes Bay seeks to raise public awareness, promote education, and to provide an opportunity for people to unite in action, to stand for and protect the Bay’s marine resources for the community and for the future.

This article was written for BayBuzz magazine. June 2016.