With constant denial, we are fishing for trouble

David Shearer – Foreign ownership kills-David Shearer Web

In the eyes of the world, New Zealand is an unspoiled island paradise: rich in natural resources, peaceful and beautiful to boot.

If we want to keep that reputation and more importantly stay a clean and lovely place to live, it’s going to take work.

As we have seen this month with the drinking water crisis in Havelock North, we cannot expect to increase our industrial demands of our country’s land and waterways, and naively expect the environment to stay as clean and green as it’s always been.

Illegal fishing

The same is true of our seas.

with-constant-denial-fisheries-at-a-glance-web

Since 2004, just 1% of prosecutions of illegal fishing were for fish dumping – where fish not the right size or species are tipped over the side; which tells me that either our fishing industry is incredibly honest, or the Government Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is not doing its job as it should and clamping down on illegal fishing.

Unfortunately, it looks to be the latter. MPI prefers to look the other way and cosy up to the fishing industry.

A study released in May this year, in collaboration with Oxford and Auckland universities, revealed that the number of fish caught in New Zealand waters has been under-reported for six decades.

It estimates that the true catch is nearly three times official figures.

It also showed systematic fish dumping and misreporting.

Absurd lethargy

If MPI was serious about protecting New Zealand’s fishery, it would have swung into action. Instead, the Government Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy criticised the report as being inaccurate.

The problem for the Minister Guy was that a few days later a report was leaked from MPI itself, revealing that its own fisheries inspectors believe between 20-100 percent of some quota fish are being dumped during every haul. It went on to say that because MPI did not prosecute offenders it is encouraging further dumping and bad practices.

MPI has refused to release the report, ‘Operation Archilles.’ Clearly, it wants to hide how it refuses to prosecute fishing boats blatantly dumping fish.

Political ploy

Once again given the evidence MPI should swing into action against dumping.

Instead, it went into a tailspin and announced it will conduct an inquiry into the fish dumping – that’s a well-used political ploy to put the issue on the backburner and cover it up.

A company, Trident Systems, is contracted to conduct the survey.

The only problem – Trident is 42% owned by Sanford and 27% owned by Moana Pacific Fisheries, both big commercial fishing enterprises.

In other words, MPI has asked a company owned by the fishing industry to investigate wrong-doing in the fishing industry. How trustworthy or independent is that?

Wrong pursuit

Meanwhile, our fisheries inspectors are spending time pursuing recreational fishers, whose catch by comparison to the big operators is insignificant.

The bulk of prosecutions are against recreational fishers.

Even so, overall prosecutions against illegal fishing are one-quarter of what they were five years ago.

This is not the first time New Zealand’s overfishing problem has hit the news headlines. Three years ago, when evidence of dumping was apparent, MPI reassured us that cameras and GPS equipment would be installed on commercial fishing vessels.

Why hasn’t that happened? Most fishing boats still do not have camera surveillance on board.

Gross incompetence

I would have thought installing that sort of equipment is a reasonably simple thing to do. Cameras and GPS equipment are relatively inexpensive, they can be purchased easily, and are straightforward to install.

Cameras were made compulsory in taxis, for example, and drivers were given just a few weeks to comply.

Of course, where vessels are fitted with cameras, is anyone bothering to check the footage – or as we have seen pursuing prosecution?

So why is it taking so long, why the procrastination, why the lack of action on a problem that is becoming more acute day after day?

Either it is extraordinary incompetence on the part of MPI and the government, or sadly it is looking like it could be something much worse.

But as a country that prides ourselves on our care of the environment we deserve transparency, answers and above all, action.

David Shearer is an elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert in Auckland and Labour Party’s spokesman for Foreign Affairs.

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