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5 Fishing Companies Misreport $3,200,000 Catch

MFish Alleges: 5 Fishing Industry Companies Misreport $3,200,000 Catch

Thursday, 12th February, 2004

The Ministry of Fisheries alleges five commercial fishing companies have misreported their catch.

The allegation stems from a Ministry of Fisheries Tauranga-based operation named "PURSE" which is currently underway.

A total 27 Fishery Officers are involved in the execution of the operation at five fishing industry companies, three in Tauranga, one in Wellington and one in Nelson. During the investigation commercial premises were examined.

Two of these Tauranga based companies each own and operate a registered commercial "purse seine" (bulk fishing method) vessel. Both vessels have been seized. They have a combined estimated valuation of $3,200,000.

One of these vessels has been estimated to have taken in excess of 948,000 kilograms of fish unlawfully, in that it is alleged the vessel was operating without a fishing permit and certificate of registration. Both a valid fishing permit and certificate of registration are the primary authorisations that allow a commercial fisherman to take fish for the purpose of sale.

A majority of this fish is alleged to have been landed to a Tauranga-based licensed fish receiver.

It is alleged that through the utilisation of five fishing permits between the two vessels involved, large quantities of fish have been misreported, on top of the fish alleged to have been taken without authority. In some cases, fishing returns have also been provided late.

The company based at Wellington is implicated in that it is alleged the company permit was fished against, and that company failed to accurately report catch. Fishery Officers exercised an "authority to enter" and searched a company director's private residence.

The company based at Nelson is implicated in that it is alleged the company permit was fished against whilst a vessel was fishing without authority and no certificate of registration, and that the company failed to accurately report catch. This Nelson-based company is a large licensed fish receiver.

The investigation is continuing, with representatives of all five fishing companies being offered the opportunity to make an explanation.

Ministry of Fisheries District Compliance Manager, Tauranga, Brendon Mikkelsen, said it is imperative fishing return declarations are accurate to ensure all fishing effort is measured and allocated against annual catch entitlement (quota).

"Misreporting offences undermine the integrity of New Zealand's Quota Management system, which has operated since 1986," he said.

Last week at Tauranga, Fishery Officers seized a "purse seine" vessel owned and operated by a fishing company. This incident is not related to the current Operation "Purse" investigation. This seizure related to the Ministry of Fisheries allegation that the permit holder (commercial fisher) and skipper took Kingfish under the minimum prescribed size. Information has been laid in respect to this matter.

Background

The purpose of the Fisheries Act 1996 is to provide for the utilisation of fisheries resources while ensuring sustainability. New Zealand's fisheries resources are managed by the Quota Management System (QMS), and all fishing is regulated by this Act. (For more information about the QMS go to: www.fish.govt.nz/information/quotams.html).

The QMS limits the quantity of fish that can be taken from any fishery during a fishing year. The 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone is divided into Quota Management areas for each quota species, and quota for each area is allocated to commercial fishers, with the total amount that may be taken in one year restricted to a level that will result in maximum sustainable yield. This is known as the Total Allowable Commercial Catch.

Regulations require a permit holder who takes fish, or on whose behalf fish are taken during any month, to complete certain returns, which must be provided to FishServe (on behalf of the Ministry of Fisheries).

The Ministry of Fisheries uses these returns to assist in the overall management and assessment fish stocks in the QMS. It is important that all returns are provided within the specified time so all effort can be measured for the month.

The combined purpose of fishing returns is to enable the Ministry to cross reference fish declared by a permit holder on a daily basis, and ensures this balances against the monthly declaration. These returns can then be matched to the Licensed Fish Receiver Return being a monthly declaration of fish received by the Licensed Fish Receiver. This enables the Ministry to detect the illegal taking of fish.

ENDS

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