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Fifty fishing boats refuse MPI observers in 18 months

Fifty commercial fishing boats have refused to allow observers from the Ministry of Primary Industries on board in the 18 months to February 2018, despite the legal requirement to do so when requested, according to official data obtained by Forest & Bird.

Forest & Bird says the evasion of legal requirements shows the industry is still plagued by rogue operators who appear to have something to hide.

“This calculated behaviour within the commercial fishing industry reveals an underbelly of lawlessness in a sector that has supposedly cleaned itself up," says Forest & Bird CE Kevin Hague.

“People will rightly be asking themselves, what’s going on at sea that commercial fishers don’t want the government or public to know about?”

“We know unlawful behaviour has been rife on some commercial fishing boats. The public deserves to know whether fishing crews are operating within the law, and this information certainly suggests that a significant number are not."

Not only are some commercial fishers actively evading legally mandated MPI oversight, the information reveals observers are also being removed from boats because of fears for their “safety and wellbeing”.

“The seafood industry is already defending itself from leaked reports showing huge quantities of fish were illegally and systemically dumped overboard. This new information shows there is still a major problem in the industry, possibly extending as far as endangering on-board observers," says Mr Hague.

A common reason given for not carrying an observer is referred to as ‘manning limits’. This means the boat doesn’t have space for an observer, despite often posing a risk to protected, inshore wildlife.

“This would never be tolerated in any other industry. If a boat can’t meet MPI’s requirements, they need to stop fishing or put a camera on board,” says Mr Hague.

“Only a tiny minority of boats are ever requested to have an observer on board, so fifty instances of evasion is a significant proportion. In the set net fishery, we calculate an average of 20 percent of all boats that were asked to host an official observer in 2017, refused to do so.

“In some instances, the skipper changed fishing method or area in what looks like a calculated attempt to avoid observer scrutiny,” says Mr Hague.

Reasons given for refusing an observer include concerns for the safety and wellbeing of the observer, food costs, not enough space (referred to as ‘manning limits’), and just point blank refusal.

“The fishing industry has asked us to believe that they have changed, but we continue to see legal evasions and strong evidence of law breaking. If they are serious about cleaning up their act, we need 100 percent observer coverage, zero tolerance for resistance to observation, and a clear commitment from Minister Nash to putting cameras on all fishing boats,” says Mr Hague.

Examples of reasons for refusal to host an MPI observer:

Vessel owner refused observer coverage and then vessel moved its fishing operations outside the target area.
Skipper initially refused to carry an observer. Minimal coverage obtained after discussions, but further coverage not sought after observer raised Safety and Wellbeing concerns due to inexperienced fishing crew.
Skipper initially refused coverage and proposed to change his vessel so that it was not suitable for carrying an observer. Matter was resolved, but only a small level of coverage was obtained.
The observer was removed due to Safety and Wellbeing concerns.
Initial attempts at coverage were not possible due to Maritime manning limits. This could not be resolved and coverage was not obtained.
Skipper initially refused to carry an observer. Vessel changed fishing method so coverage was no longer needed for the vessel.
Skipper initially refused to carry an observer. Minimal coverage obtained after further discussion, but further coverage not sought due to Maritime Health and Safety issues.
Skipper did not provide sufficient information to allow planning and deployment of an observer. Issue was not resolved and no coverage was obtained.
Vessel operator refused initial attempts to deploy an observer citing food costs for the observer.
Notes:
Of the 50 incidents recorded from August 2016 to February 2018, there were seven enforcement actions, referred to as ‘placement notices’. Placement notices usually resulted in eventual compliance from the skipper.

The set net fishery overall has had less than 5% observer coverage in 2017. There are about 311 set net boats operating in NZ so an average of 16 had observers on board that year, but 4 set netters refused to have someone on board in 2017.

ends

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