Articles / 6 July 2018

Unmasking a reluctant Ministry

Stuart Nash, Minister of Fisheries

In just one week 48 separate items of news appeared in the media pointing to leaked reports identifying mass fish dumping, years of non-compliance, blatant under-reporting of thousands of tonnes of New Zealand fish and MPI senior officials turning a blind eye.

How much more can we and our fisheries take before the Director-General Martyn Dunne or the Minister, Stuart Nash takes action?

MPI, now called Fisheries New Zealand, has done its best to hide a fleet of reports exposing similar behaviours aboard trawlers working in New Zealand waters. Some of the reports are years old. After much pressure, the Manager of Compliance Investigations, Garry Orr, is trotted out in the media to defend FNZ’s inaction. His explanation was, in short, that they were internal reports not meant for (prying) public eyes.

Internally FNZ staff must be gutted. It’s not easy tracking what happens at sea on non-complying vessels and building a case to report on the illegalities. Then to have their hard work stymied by those in senior positions must, in colloquial terms, rip their nightie.

A few years ago the public could easily be fooled into thinking the illegal behaviour was happening aboard foreign-owned vessels. With new legislation that alibi has gone. These are New Zealand permitted operators from some of the country’s biggest fishing companies harvesting our common marine resource in a quest to maximise profits.

What’s more, this ongoing and deliberate wastage makes a mockery of the slick adverts that we see every week in the media espousing the sustainable practices of the commercial fishing industry. No amount of spin can mask the wanton wastage that has occurred, and every week as the sunlight shines on more reports, fewer people will be fooled.

As recreational fishers and environmentalists concerned for the fishing opportunities for future generations the deliberate stonewalling by FNZ to stall the release of more reports is galling. We know these reports exist so there is no point in FNZ holding out on us because eventually, as our mothers taught us, the truth will come out.

In the meantime, FNZ keeps coming back to us as recreational fishers, expecting us to accept tighter controls in an effort to rebuild stocks that have been overfished for years by commercial fishers. It is time for FNZ to come clean and do more to show us that they work in the public interest.

FNZ also need to prove to us that they have indeed addressed the problems of chronic wastage and illegal behaviour.

There are ingrained, fundamental problems with the Quota Management System and fisheries management that are clearly beyond the scope of FNZ to address. We just need to look overseas to see there are solutions that could deliver abundance for all, we just need to have the guts to look beyond our current horizon.

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