September 29, 2016
Startling evidence confirming gross under reporting of total catch from our fisheries came to light with the release of a report by Dr. Glenn Simmons earlier this year. The research, spanning 60 years of reporting to the United Nations, was accompanied by the leaking of two draft reports from the Ministry for Primary Industries. It was clear that MPI had knowledge and video footage of large scale fish dumping happening off the east coast of the South Island, but decided against prosecuting the offenders.
Operations Achilles and Hippocamp were initiated by MPI to verify suspicions that wastage was occurring at sea. What the investigators found surprised even them. But the surprises keep coming.
MPI officials debated amongst themselves whether they ought to charge the culprits, some of whom openly discarded fish while a Ministry observer was on board. In the end no legal action was taken, instead, warning letters were sent to the vessel skippers.
When the Operation reports were leaked Dave Turner, MPI’s Director of Fisheries, commented that, “We couldn’t prosecute because of the legislation – we couldn’t use the evidence gathered by the video footage”. He knew better than that.
After a furore lasting days MPI’s Director General, Martyn Dunne, announced an inquiry by Queens Council Michael Heron into the decision to not take action.
On September 16th, Heron reported the decision not to prosecute was “flawed” and that fish dumping is a “problem that has been recognised since the beginning of the Quota Management System…”
If we are unable to place our trust in MPI to act decisively with such a clear cut case, is it okay to still trust them to protect our precious fish?
What does it say about the industry’s relationship with MPI when a crew can repeatedly break the law, all the while knowing they are being filmed and still walk away untouched?
Surely this is enough for decision makers to realise that the Quota Management System is no longer world leading. Quite the opposite.
After thirty years of the QMS not much has changed. We are still fighting the same battles to restore abundance. It is time to try something new. Our fisheries, our decision makers and we simply deserve better.
Whether it is due to sheer ignorance or something more sinister, it is clear we cannot rely on MPI to enforce the rules as they are. It is time to make improvements to the system in order to change behaviours around our fisheries.
Nathan Guy as Minister for Primary Industries now has the opportunity to stand up and show stewardship. To become the guardian that MPI was supposed to be. We need to stop treating our fisheries as a commodity and start seeing it as the true treasure trove it could be.
LegaSea is calling for a Commission of Inquiry into fisheries management and the Quota Management System, anything less would be an insult to the New Zealand public.