There is an ongoing furore over the revelations in two official reports that Ministry for Primary Industries officials knew commercial trawl fishers were illegally dumping, discarding and high grading fish but did nothing to stop the crimes or perpetrators.
Our New Zealand Sport Fishing Council fisheries team has submitted several Official Information Act requests to source the reports of Operations Achilles and Hippocamp, and any subsequent Ministry advice to Ministers.
Of particular interest is the legal advice MPI received in regards to Achilles and Hippocamp. The Operational investigator recommended prosecutions be taken against offenders, but no actions were taken.
Operations Achilles and Hippocamp ran in the 2012-13 year and looked into whether trawlers regularly dumped catch in significant proportions. The reports indicated widespread, endemic abuse of the Quota Management System and suggested some activities bordered on the illegal.
After three days of denials from the Prime Minister and industry representatives the Director-General of MPI Martyn Dunne announced on May 19th a review into the “circumstances surrounding Operation Achilles, including the decision not to prosecute individuals associated with the potentially illegal discarding”.
He went on to assure us that MPI holds people to account “when illegal activity takes place. Each year, the Ministry prosecutes in excess of 300 cases in the fisheries sector and issues over 3,000 infringements”.
On May 24th D-G Dunne announced the appointment of a Queen’s Counsel to conduct the inquiry and the terms of reference.
LegaSea issued a statement after this announcement urging the Ministry to broaden the terms of reference for the inquiry.
Scott Macindoe LegaSea spokesperson said, “Given that the Ministry commissioned the original Operations then decided not to prosecute those responsible for the illegal dumping and blatant wastage, it is not appropriate for MPI to be so closely involved”.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant and the Minister needs to shine a big light into the inner workings of MPI. How can the public restore their faith in this organisation and its ability to oversee New Zealand’s fisheries assets when it looks like they are colluding with industry to hide the truth?”
LegaSea is calling for a Commission of Inquiry to be held because the issue is too great for a Ministry-controlled investigation, and that MPI appears to have granted lawbreakers immunity from prosecution.
“MPI did not make the reports into those Operations public. The reports and recommendations to prosecute were exposed by researchers at the University of Auckland. MPI has rubbished the University’s research efforts and continues to deny there is a problem, but somehow we are supposed to accept their word for it that there are no more instances like these that need investigating and there’s nothing dodgy going on over the horizon. We simply don’t believe that is the case,” says Macindoe.
What can you do?
Watch this space as LegaSea pushes for an independent Inquiry. If the government resists this essential move to examine flaws in the Ministry’s operations and its relationships with third parties we will need public pressure to force the issue.