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Frustrated at media message, cameras

New Zealand’s commercial fishing industry is sustainable and fishers are committed to doing the right thing, but that message needs to be driven home, says Seafood NZ chief executive Tim Pankhurst.

Mr Pankhurst was speaking at an East Coast fishing industry meeting.

Aims of the meeting were to provide an update on fisheries issues, review research Seafood NZ commissioned on industry trust among New Zealanders, and to detail the approach this year to its “Promise” campaign.

Fisheries Inshore chief executive Dr Jeremy Helson also gave an update on the introduction of electronic reporting of catches and global positioning that shows where every vessel is at 10-minute intervals.

“Building the public’s trust in what we do and improving the industry’s reputation is critically important,” said Mr Pankhurst.

“However, it is not a one-way conversation. It is invaluable for us to get feedback from those who are doing the catching and processing.”

Several people at the meeting expressed frustration at messages in the media that cast a shadow over commercial fishing practices, and on-board surveillance cameras.

New Zealand’s squid fisheries were monitored close to 100 percent, said Seafood NZ and Ngai Tahu Seafoods chairman Craig Ellison.

Some information suggested commercial fishing was a factor in sea lion mortality during the squid fishing season in sub-Antarctica “but it’s only a small factor”.

A Seafood NZ document subheaded “Public trust in Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) has fallen” says the Ministry for Primary Industries regularly issues a detailed summary of the performance of the squid fishery to manage the incidental capture of New Zealand sea lions.

“It includes the number of vessels, the number of trawl tows, the percentage of tows where MPI observers were present and mortalities.”

There were no recorded sea lion deaths last season, said the report.

“This year, 16 weeks into the season, regrettably, there have been three sea lion mortalities.

“That was after a total of 1200 tows, which shows such captures are rare.”

“There’s no quick fix but all these protections help build public confidence,” said Mr Ellison.

“Cameras aren’t going away and that is seen as a quick fix.”

Any Tom, Dick or Harry could go online and see what fishers were doing, said one man from the floor.

“You don’t see that happening in their offices, do you?” said another.

In response to a comment by Mr Pankhurst that commercial, recreational and customary take allocation was essential to build abundance, a voice from the floor said no fisheries stock survey had been made since 1977.

“They need to do a stock assessment of all fish, then make a database so in 10 years time they can see what stocks are around the country.”

The cut to the commercial catch of tarakihi was arbitrary, he said.

“Part of it was our fault because we didn’t do the research. We couldn’t argue against it so that decision was a compromise.

“I hope the research will tell us we can change this TAC (Total Allowable Catch — the total quantity of each fish stock) decision in a couple of years time.”

Minister of Fisheries Stuart Nash had said the onus was on them to demonstrate the fishery was as healthy as the industry said it was, said Mr Pankhurst.

“The ball is in our court to an extent.”

Another person at the meeting said the cut to the tarakihi take would put pressure on other stocks such as gurnard.

The Seafood NZ roadshow began after the launch of a programme aimed at improving environmental care and transparency at sea.

Skippers were asked to sign up to a six-point code of conduct. The code underpins the Promise media campaign launched in 2017.

People in the commercial fishing industry were in it for the long haul, said Mr Pankhurst.

The industry was filled with good, hard-working people so Seafood NZ needed to build the public’s trust.

Seafood was an important industry for the country, he said.

“We are pressing $2 billion in exports and the domestic market. Science tells us we have a sustainable industry.”

BERL research, commissioned by Fisheries Inshore NZ, showed the Gisborne processing sector alone provides 550 jobs and contributes $194 million.

There were some anomalies and imperfections but it was not in the industry’s interests to harm it.

“That message is not being accepted by the public.”

Seafoods NZ plans to launch a national advertising campaign mid-year.

AT SEA: A meeting in Gisborne provided an update on issues the fishing industry is facing, including the matter of trust New Zealanders have in the industry. File picture
Tim Pankhurst