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Stiff sentence passed in fish dumping case

9 June 2008

Stiff sentence passed in fish dumping case

Nelson based fisherman Lee Craig Harding was sentenced in the Nelson District court today on charges relating to illegally discarding catches of southern blue whiting (‘dumping’) during a trip in 2004 and the deliberate mis-reporting of that catch.

Lee Craig Harding, the former skipper of a large Sealord factory trawler, was sentenced to a fine of $45,000 after being found guilty of 9 charges under the Fisheries Act 1996 relating to intentional dumping of southern blue whiting and mis-reporting of catch. The offending occurred when Mr Harding was the skipper of the 66 metre long Nelson based factory trawler Aorere during a fishing trip in the southern ocean during September and October 2004.

Sealord Ltd, one of New Zealand’s largest fishing companies appeared in the Nelson District Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to a related offence, however, after application by Sealord, this matter has been delayed and a date for sentencing is to be confirmed in the near future.

The judge has reserved his decision on whether the fishing vessel Aorere plus the fishing gear and equipment on board will be forfeit to the Crown.

During a fishing trip in the southern ocean near the sub-Antarctic Campbell Islands during September and October 2004, a decision was made between three men who held the positions of Skipper (Lee Craig Harding), First Mate (James Jeffery Alford) and Factory Manager (Ross William McCoy) to illegally discard (dump) large quantities of southern blue whiting which had been caught. The exact quantity of southern blue whiting that was dumped is unknown but is estimated at between 80 and 311 tonnes.

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The investigation started when fishery investigators received information that the offending had taken place. It was established through further enquiries that during this trip, southern blue whiting, a fish species managed under the quota management system, had been systematically dumped over a period of about 2 and a half weeks. Attempts to quantify the total amount of fish dumped in this period were made but it proved difficult as no records of any kind were kept.

First Mate (James Jeffery Alford) and Factory Manager (Ross William McCoy) pleaded guilty to 15 charges of illegal discarding of fish in September 2007. Both men were fined $20,000 plus various costs.

The New Zealand quota management system (QMS) requires commercial fishers to land all QMS fish to Licensed Fish Receivers and also relies on the accurate reporting of all activities. Dumping of fish as well as deliberate mis-reporting of catches are serious breaches of the Fisheries Act and the long-term effects of such actions could affect fish stock levels, fishing areas and the ability to manage fisheries sustainably.

Ministry of Fisheries Chief Executive Wayne McNee said that he was pleased with the court result. “Dumping of quota fish is a serious offence against the Fisheries Act and can be difficult to detect”.

Mr McNee praised the effort and initiative of fishery officers who detected and completed the investigation as well as the support received from crew members on the vessel at the time who had co-operated with officers and supplied information.

Mr McNee said he was disappointed that offending of this nature and scope had occurred. “There is no excuse for such a deliberate wastage of fish. Deliberate and dishonest behaviour such as this is disappointing as it undermines the Quota Management System and the rights of other fishers. It is pleasing to see the courts recognising this by imposing a stiff sentence.”

Background

The Ministry of Fisheries (MFish) is separate from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) after a government restructure in 1995.

Fishery officer is the correct reference - MAF Officers have a different role unrelated to fisheries law enforcement.

Why is fish dumping illegal?
New Zealand’s fisheries are carefully managed under the Quota Management System. The QMS sets annual limits for how much of each species can be caught so enough fish are left to breed and ensure the population will be sustainable in the future.

Fishers must report the weight of each fish species they catch, so fisheries managers can ensure limits are not exceeded, and can monitor the health of each fish stock.

When fish is dumped at sea without any reporting, these fish are not accounted for and are essentially over and above the limits set under the QMS. This puts the sustainability and future of the fishery at risk.

Southern Blue Whiting

Southern blue whiting is mainly exported as surimi (a processed fish product that imitates crabmeat), although a portion of the catch is also processed into a higher value fillet. Approximately 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of southern blue whiting is caught each year and is an important catch for the middle depths trawl fleet.

Vessels target southern blue whiting in late winter to early spring, when the fish group together (aggregate) to spawn. There are four distinct spawning areas in New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic waters; the Auckland Islands, the Bounty Platform, Campbell Island and the Pukaki Rise. Each is managed as a separate stock.

Southern blue whiting are fast growing and typically spawn for the first time when they are 3 to 4 years old. Varying numbers of young southern blue whiting join the spawning aggregations each year, so the stock size can change quickly if a large number of young fish join in the same year.

ENDS


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