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New Zealand needs to reform fisheries management

Media Release - 16 May 2016

New Zealand needs to reform fisheries management

Research published today by Auckland, Oxford and Vancouver academics on fisheries catch mis-reporting is very welcome says Cath Wallace, fisheries management specialist and former senior lecturer in public economics and policy at Victoria University of Wellington and vice chair of the Environment and Conservation Organisations, ECO.

“This is a welcome, very carefully researched reconstruction of actual catch rather than reported catch.”

It is part of a series of studies by Professor Daniel Pauly and his team at the University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre and global project The Sea Around us.

“The methodology is sound though of course the fishing industry and the officials contest it because it reveals the credibility gap in official statistics and industry reporting.”

Dr Glenn Simmon’s, Dr Christina Stringer and their local team have joined the other academics and applied this method to New Zealand and have focused on the system failures of the fish catch reporting systems in the New Zealand Quota management system (QMS).

Cath Wallace said “the research shows that the level of unreported catch and mis-reported catch by industrial commercial fishing is staggeringly huge – much greater than the government scientists allowed for, but consistent with the reports that sometimes surface from people in the industry.”

“The incentives to cheat are huge and driven by greed that exploits flaws in the design of the fisheries Quota Management System (QMS). Measuring catch is fundamental to the QMS, and we have had decades of mis-reporting.”

“These concerns about the QMS design and management neglect of environmental damage have been raised by ECO and others in fisheries management meetings for decades but have been brushed aside.”

“It is well over time to reform the QMS to include crucial reporting issues as well as avoiding and reporting impacts on the environment.

Incentives and penalties to use less damaging methods of fishing and to avoid adverse effects on the marine environment are missing from New Zealand fisheries management. The Act requires this but it is not done. “The Precautionary Principle to protect the environment should be put in the Fisheries Act but political pressure by the big fishing companies blocked this last time it was proposed.”

“Management should recognize and provide for ecosystem based management of fisheries, instead of just managing for harvesting fish. “

The fisheries managers are doing a review of the QMS, but these key issues were missing from the terms of reference. Fisheries management has long been done with political pressure from the big industry players preventing attention to matters in the public good and the smaller fishers.

There are already requirements in the Fisheries Act 1996 for “avoiding, remedying or mitigating adverse effects of fishing on the marine environment”. The Ministry for Primary Industry and its predecessors do little about this except in relation to seabirds and marine mammals – the rest of the ecosystem is mostly ignored by fisheries managers and industrial commercial fishing companies alike.

“There is a heavy reliance on rhetoric such as that New Zealand’s fisheries management is world leading – but there is little actual substance to this.”

One much cited international study that did compare New Zealand fisheries management with others had a ministry scientist in the team and one of the biggest fisheries, orange roughy, was mysteriously removed from the consideration of stocks in New Zealand – yet it has been the poster child of depleted stocks and fisheries management dominated by pressure from the commercial interests of deep water fishers.

In contrast, the Simmons & Paul et al paper gives us truly independent research with multiple methods of catch assessment. “There are cross checks built in and it uses well established, internationally accepted methods for this. There are decades of experience and refinement of these methods and they are evidence based.”

The study reveals convincing evidence that the fishing industry itself should not be trusted to report accurately. We must have stronger incentives and regulation for the protection of the environment and true independence of research.

Cath Wallace said there is an opportunity now for a significant reassessment of fisheries management in New Zealand.

“The cost recovery system, the industry grip on the research agenda, their habit of threatening and intimidating researchers with funding cuts, and their dismissive attitude to concerns about the environment need to change.”

“Fisheries decision making needs to include the wider community and a wider set of values than just harvest values. The Ministry itself should give much more attention to genuine ecosystem based management and not hide behind vacuous claims of being world leading. It is a mantra they have had for decades.”


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