University of Auckland researcher, Glenn Simmons, collaborating with some NGOs, last month released claims that New Zealand has, over the last 60 years, caught more than 2.7 times what was recorded internationally by the Government and industry.

This report had been fore-shadowed several times in the media, and was released without any input from either industry or government.  The figures contained within the report have been adjusted using anecdotal information that has not been subjected to peer review.  While there have been discussions with MPI, the authors of the report did not consult with MPI (for either its official catch records or its independent observer audits of those records) nor with NIWA, which undertakes most of the analysis of our fisheries.

Aotearoa Fisheries responded immediately to Simmons’ claims, saying the research paints an inaccurate picture of fish stocks because it is based on old data and is not reflective of our current Quota Management System. (Read more)

It is well acknowledged that our earlier systems of management did not have good estimates of catch or the state of our stocks and the Quota Management System, introduced 30 years ago, resolved many of the reporting issues in respect of obtaining accurate data on the level of take, as well as ensuring sustainable catches of fishstocks.  It is perhaps more important to know the status of our fishstocks, but it is also important to measure responses of fishstocks to varying catch levels. 

It was also known that there was extensive fishing in the initial years prior to and immediately after establishing the QMS – but the controls put in place to cut catch significantly when required has stocks now in good heart – see Status of Stocks Update here.

Simmons is concerned that our reports to FAO do not include either discards or the catches from foreign-flagged vessels.  While these are available, FAO requirements ask nations to remove those from their reported figures – the report estimates these at higher levels than have been recorded. 

Simmons’ anecdotal information is strongly at odds with NIWA reports that estimate less than 7 percent losses in discards for the deepwater fleet (which is strongly observed) for the period 1991-2013.  Nor are those estimates in line with the recorded losses of less than 5 percent with the SNA1 fleet (also strongly observed) in the last two years.

WE agree, however, that it is important that New Zealand has a system that accurately records catch.  This has been the driver for a robust programme that Te Ohu Kaimoana, and now Fisheries Inshore NZ, has promoted with MPI for several years. 

Part of any programme must include an accurate description of problems as well as solutions to any problems that emerge.  We are already aware of the need for more selective fishing to minimise discards and, to that end, Te Ohu has been funding trials on alternative commercial fishing nets in Hawkes Bay over the last five years.  Our trials have demonstrated that we can reduce the catch of undersized round fish (eg, gurnard) by between 50 and 80 percent. 

We are currently trialling variations hoping to gain similar successes for fish like snapper and trevally.  In addition, AFL and Sealord along with Sanford are developing the Precision Seafood Harvesting nets that aim to minimise the catch of under-sized fish or land them in live and in good condition so they can be returned to the sea. 

Improving the transparency and reliability of fisheries data reporting is essential.  Maori have a critical role to play in terms of kaitiakitanga over all New Zealand’s fishing sectors, which makes up part of our submission on the Fisheries Act review.   Te Ohu is looking to evolve the QMS, not cast it aside as some other commentators suggest.

The Minister for Primary Industries, Hon Nathan Guy, immediately issued a media release announcing the Government’s intention to speed up the rollout of monitoring equipment on commercial fishing vessels.  AFL supported the Minister’s decision. Trident Systems, a company owned by the fishing industry but operated by a team of objective researchers and scientists, has been contracted by MPI to monitor fishing with sealed, tamper proof on-board cameras.  This appointment drew criticism from Greenpeace.

AFL responded to the Greenpeace criticism, stating that industry is investing over and above statutory requirements.

For more information and to discuss, contact Laws Lawson, Principal Adviser, at Te Ohu Kaimoana