Over time various government functions have been passed over to Crown institutes and established researchers. This hand-over is acceptable if stakeholders have had a say, and if the transfer is to accredited parties. However, the passover of more fisheries management functions and administrative powers to FishServe, a company owned and operated by the fishing industry is in a different league.
FishServe now collect and store all commercial fishing data, register vessels and quota holdings, monitor overfishing thresholds, and even provide Official Information Act responses in place of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
While this hands-off approach might suit the Ministry, in our view, this is more evidence that the fishing industry in New Zealand want to monitor and manage themselves.
Russel Norman, executive director of Greenpeace, called this development as another example of the ‘fox guarding the henhouse’, a term he has used before referring to the industry being tasked with operating the video cameras that monitor their fishing boats.
Not only does this raise questions about the reliability of the data used in fisheries management, but this shift of power to FishServe makes it more difficult for the public to access this information. MPI is bound to the Official Information Act so the public can formally request any information held, FishServe now charges users to access this ‘public’ information.
A new, dedicated, and focused Ministry of Fisheries is essential to reassure us, as owners of this public resource, that our precious marine environment is in safe hands.
Glenn Simmons, an Auckland University Researcher, revealed that MPI have, for the last two years, refused to release a trove of Ministry reports around fish dumping.
Simmons, author of last year’s catch reconstruction report which showed MPI’s refusal to prosecute fish dumping despite video evidence, requested over 100 reports in 2015. He was denied due to his request being too ‘vague’.
Simmons then sent another request naming just 14 reports, known to be held by the Ministry. Two years on and he is still waiting.
Reports Apate; Apate II; Blade; Box II; Bronto; Horse; Kenwood; Mega; Mini; Maxi; Purse; Trios; Turn Up; and Uzi are said to be similar to Achilles, Overdue and Hippocamp, which were released alongside the catch reconstruction report.
LegaSea condemns any attempts to hide information from the public, especially concerning something as important as the exploitation and health of our fisheries and marine environment. Transparency is needed.
Perhaps these reports will show nothing of concern, but as we are left in the dark we cannot help but speculate what they may contain.
If MPI are truly working in the public’s interest, what could there be to hide?
One thing is certain, if we are to once again have faith that our precious marine environment is in safe hands and that this resource will be available for future generations to enjoy we need more access to data, and a comprehensive, independent review of MPI, its remaining functions and the Quota Management System.