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Fishing boss admits it's "commonplace" to not report bycatch

A director of West Coast fishing company Robson Fishing Partnership/Impulse Fishing admitted the company failed to report seabird deaths for three years, in an Employment Relations Authority case. Forest & Bird has referred the case to the Ministry for Primary Industries for investigation.

In 2014 the fishing outfit sacked a skipper who took a personal grievance to the Employment Relations Authority. The case involved allegations of a culture of cruelty to seabirds and an admission by one of the directors that no seabird deaths were recorded between 2011 and 2014 despite accidentally killing 20 seabirds per year.

During the case, the director of Robson Fishing/Impulse also alleged it was commonplace within the industry to fail to report seabird deaths and the deaths of other non-quota species.

It is an offence under the Fisheries Act to fail to report seabird deaths.

“The problems with this company show why we need cameras on boats. It’s fundamentally wrong that it should take an employment dispute to reveal what was happening on board this vessel,” says Forest & Bird spokesperson Geoff Keey.

“Had there been cameras on the boat, there is no way the company could have hidden the number of birds it was killing, and it’s extremely unlikely there would be any question of a culture of cruelty to birds.”

The director’s allegations, that failing to report seabird deaths and other non-quota species is common place, is backed by MPI documents showing the 3% of the set net fishery with observers accounted for 13 of the 14 penguin deaths reported in 2016, while the 97% of the fishery that had no observers claimed to catch only 1 penguin.

“Unfortunately, non-reporting like this seems to be such a persistent problem with the fishing industry that it now has a serious problem with its public credibility. More government observers and cameras on boats are the best way for the industry to restore confidence and credibility,” says Mr Keey.

“Only a few weeks ago. Forest & Bird revealed the fishing industry had written to MPI to try and hide the information from fishing boats from public scrutiny. Rightly, the Minister of Fisheries rejected this as an affront to public transparency. It would be even worse if information about the environmental impact of fishing wasn’t collected in the first place.”

The Employment Relations Authority determination can be found here.


Admission of not reporting bycatch
[155] Andrew was candid in his evidence that he estimated that there would have been approximately 20 accidental, or incidental, deaths of seabirds per year over the combined trips that he and Mr Smith skippered. He was also candid in admitting that although he was aware that their deaths had to be reported no seabird deaths were reported at all during the time Mr Smith worked for Impulse, no matter whether he or Mr Smith were the skipper.
Allegation of not reporting bycatch being widespread
[156] Andrew’s evidence at the investigation meeting was that as far as he was aware it was commonplace within the industry to fail to report sea bird deaths, and the deaths of other non-quota species.

Other issues revealed as part of the ERA case:
[148] Those circumstances include that Mr Smith raised a concern with Andrew about the crew’s abuse of birds between 18 months and 2 years prior to raising it with Geoff. He asked Andrew how to deal with it. He and Andrew agreed that they would tell the crew it was totally unacceptable. They did so. It appears that abuse stopped when Andrew was skippering, and also stopped at least initially for some time when Mr Smith was skippering.

[129] Unbeknownst to Mr Smith, later that evening Mr Ikink and Mr Dunick telephoned Ms Timpson to complain that they had been told off about bird abuse but had not been given an opportunity to explain that Mr Smith was involved by encouraging them at times. Ms Timpson rang Geoff to tell him that.

[151] Impulse says the handbook was kept in the wheelhouse of the Impulse. However, Mr Smith says he had not seen it until it was provided for the investigation meeting. There is no suggestion the handbook had the status of Impulse policy that Mr Smith was bound to adhere to. The first page of the book notes:

It is important that vessel operators remain current with their understanding of their obligations under the Fisheries Act, Wildlife Act and Marine Mammals Protection Act.

[152] There is no evidence that Impulse had a procedure to ensure it and its employees kept up to date with any changes in the above legislation. There is no evidence Impulse had any policies or procedures relating to handling non-quota species or seabirds. No obligations under specific legislation were drawn to Mr Smith’s attention when he was inducted onto the Impulse II. Nor is there any evidence that Mr Smith or the crew were trained in appropriately handling any sea birds that landed on deck.

[153] The handbook also includes a vessel checklist which allowed a vessel operator to place a “check” beside the following:

· Reporting requirements for seabirds understood.
· Crew understand safe handling procedures for seabirds
· Seabird hotspots and times known and understood for avoidance.
· The number of seabirds present that triggers the vessel to move on understood.
· Mitigation measures for the vessel identified in the vessel plan including:

• setting and hauling;
• offal and bait retention;
• deck lighting;
• monitoring;
• mitigation equipment; and
• seabird release equipment.

[154] In the copy provided to the Authority there are no checks by any of the list items, and I was not supplied with a vessel plan including mitigation measures. That is not to say no mitigation methods were used, as I know that some were, particularly when setting lines.

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