Antons Fishing Group Rejects Minister’s Claims
8 December 2006
Anton’s Seafoods Group
Antons Fishing Group Rejects Fisheries Minister’s Claims Relating to Fisheries Act
Yesterday afternoon the Fisheries Minister, Jim Anderton, released a press statement relating to the Government’s intention to change fisheries legislation, as a result of recent losses in Court.
The press release followed on from a sudden decision by the Government to abandon its defence of a judicial review filed in the High Court of Wellington by the ORH1 Exploratory Fishing Company Limited and companies in the Antons Group challenging a recent decision by the Minister of Fisheries to reduce the total allowable catch for orange roughy fishery in Quota Management Area 1 by 44%.
In its notice abandoning its defence of the proceedings in the High Court, the Government has indicated that its decision was based on apparent ambiguities in the legislation that meant sustainability of fisheries could not be accorded greater weight than utilisation of the fisheries by fishers.
This assertion as to the present state of fisheries legislation was further expanded upon in the Minister’s press release of 7 December 2006.
The suggestion made in both the notice withdrawing from the proceedings and the Minister’s press release that present fisheries legislation does not adequately provide for sustainability of fisheries or application of the precautionary principle in management of fisheries is categorically rejected by the Antons Group and does not accurately reflect the Plaintiff’s case.
In fact, the Plaintiffs alleged, and the Government has effectively conceded, that the Minister’s decisions did not accord with s13 of the Fisheries Act 1996 as it failed to set a TAC by reference to the maximum sustainable yield as is required by the Act and International law. More particularly, the Plaintiffs alleged that this occurred as a result of the failure of the Ministry to provide the Minister with relevant information, which was in the possession of the Ministry and which was materially relevant to the decision to be made by the Minister.
The Minister’s announcement as to changes to be made to fisheries legislation is a smokescreen, which draws attention away from the fact that it is not legislative failings, which have resulted in recent legal losses by various Minister of Fisheries in High Court proceedings. The losses sustained, have all been attributable to poor advice, both scientific and legal, given to successive Ministers by the Ministry of Fisheries, and that as a result, the respective Ministers have failed to make decisions in accordance with basic principles of administrative law.
It is a fact that the present fisheries legislation enshrines the sanctity of the sustainability of fisheries while providing for utilisation. It is fundamentally incorrect to suggest that utilisation of fisheries resources is presently favoured over sustainability or that the Minister cannot apply the precautionary principle to fisheries management decisions.
The Government and the Minister can change the law as many times as it likes, but this will not resolve the issues that have arisen in recent court cases. It would appear that what the Minister is, in reality, proposing is that fisheries legislation be amended to enable him to act on erroneous or incorrect information in a fashion that he is beyond legal challenge.
Such a course of action has serious implications for everybody, not just the fishing industry.
The Plaintiffs will be seeking orders in the Court that reflect their rejection of the Government’s characterisation of the basis on which it has withdrawn its defence.