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Full inquiry into fishing practices seems best?way forward

Opinion Piece

Reports that large quantities of fish have been illegally dumped by quota holders represent a major scandal for the industry and the often embattled Ministry for Primary Industries.

A global study released this week claims that New Zealand’s true marine catch is more than twice the official reported one.

The Sea Around Us report argues that New Zealand’s quota management system undermines sustainable fisheries by incentivising fishers to misreport their catch and dump some less profitable fish species.

The report estimates the total catch between 1950 and 2010 was 38.1 million tonnes, well above the reported catch of 14m tonnes. The main reasons given for this are unreported commercial catch and fish being discarded because they were too small, uneconomic or the fisher had no quota.

The findings of the New Zealand component of the report have been strongly challenged by MPI, the Government and the industry, while Labour wants an independent review of the quota management system and the Greens say more government observers are needed on ships.

MPI director of fisheries management Dave Turner has questioned the study’s methodology and conclusions. He says other studies show steadily increasing abundance levels and that the fishery is healthy overall.

Prime Minister John Key says research by Niwa estimated the discarded catch rate at only 6 percent, and that there have been observers on boats, GPS tracking and filming for some time now.

Here in Gisborne there are conflicting views. Recreational fisher Linda Coulston says she knows of fish being dumped but Gisborne Fisheries CEO Salve Zame, part of a long-established and respected Gisborne fishing family, says the report’s claims are unsubstantiated.

The New Zealand public will be horrified to think that vast quantities of dead fish are being discarded, and will want answers and action to ensure any such practices are eliminated. It seems that a full inquiry is needed to eventually provide that assurance.