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Govt Abdicates Environmental Role In NZ Fisheries

GOVERNMENT ABDICATES ITS ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP ROLE IN NEW ZEALAND MARINE FISHERIES

By NZ Marine Sciences Society (contact Dr Russ Babcock, Ph: 09 422 611; fax: 09 422 6113, email: r.babcock@auckland.ac.nz)

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Government is accelerating into an extremely high-risk management regime for New Zealand's fisheries. The Government is abdicating its role as the steward of New Zealand's fish populations (a public resource) and the marine ecosystems that support them.

The scenario painted by NZ Marine Sciences Society (Dominion 3 Feb 1999) is alive and well. What is the Government giving (devolving) to the fishing industry? the process of determining what, if any, research is required for * the Minister to set Total Allowable Catches (TACs); the process of selecting researchers; * the responsibility for buying the research necessary for the Minister to set TACs and decisions for the management of the marine environment; * the responsibility for assessing the impacts of their activities on the marine environment; * the data collection processes for the monitoring of the entire fishing industry's activities (catch-effort data collection and recording).

The Ministry of Fisheries, The Treasury, the Sea Food Industry Council, and the Waitangi Fisheries Commission (Te Ohu Kai Moana), recently formed a Joint Working group. They have advised the Government to give the fishing industry control of all its functions except enforcement of laws and regulations of the Quota Management System. In simple terms the Government is putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

The contents of recently released papers on cost recovery have, buried in them, evidence that shows a lame duck Government has been captured by the industry and intends to press ahead with an exceptionally hazardous strategy for management of a public resource. One particularly disturbing revelation is that while the Governor General may revoke or amend the right of quota holders to carry out devolved functions, this can only happen with the agreement of the quota holders! One must question the degree to which this represents an adequate safeguard for national resources. The process of devolution is being pushed forward for implementation in 2000/01, however it would seem extremely foolhardy to do this while standards and specifications for devolved functions have yet to be established. The Minister, Mr. Luxton, has promised that there will be consultation with all interest groups (i.e. recreational fishers, commercial interests, Maori, environmental and research interest groups) in the setting of these standards (Seafood NZ March 1999, page 26).

However none of these groups (with the possible exception of the commercial sector) have yet been approached. NZ Marine Sciences Society finds this nothing short of reckless.

The NZ Marine Sciences Society questions the ability of the Minister of Fisheries to recognise when he is being given highly selective advice. In the case of fisheries, not satisfied with having bought in the Quota Management System, public servants appear to be "busting" to run the fisheries devolution experiment.

This experiment involves blind faith in the notion that the ownership of an "access right" to fish (Quota) gives the fishing industry the incentives to manage fisheries (a common property resource) sustainably in the interests of not only themselves, but of future generations. There is no detailed analysis yet available of the likely implications of this devolution.

We note the evidence of perverse economic incentives that

fishers have, to over-exploit fish populations. This evidence comes from the economic literature and decades of observations of fishing industry behaviour. The Treasury economists and the Ministry of Fisheries never discuss or rebut this evidence. They are apparently so sure of their ability to manipulate politicians that they refuse to even enter the debate, a debate started in the economics literature by their own international colleagues.

As scientists, who constantly have to front up to rigorous peer review, we find it amazing that the kind of advice offered by the Ministry of Fisheries and The Treasury to politicians is often narrow, unsupported by analysis, and originating from industry lobbyists. This advice does not contain a full canvassing of the issues nor of alternative views. It also does not contain a comprehensive risk assessment of the danger to sustainable use of New Zealand's fish stocks.

The only responsible course of action, if the Government insists on running this experiment, is that the Ministry of Fisheries be given instructions that change towards industry control is to be gradual, starting with only a few test cases. This gradual course of action would prove whether or not the fishing industry has the maturity to manage on behalf of future generations.

It would also show whether the Ministry of Fisheries has the ability to monitor what is happening to our fish stocks, in spite of having lost direct control of the collection of basic data and the independent scientific analysis needed for assessing and recommending future management options.

end

Russ Babcock Senior Lecturer University of Auckland Leigh Marine Laboratory PO Box 349 Warkworth New Zealand tel. 64 9 4226111

fax. 64 9 4226113 r.babcock@auckland.ac.nz

http://www.auckland.ac.nz/leigh/


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