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Hoki fishery. (Photo: A. Anderson)

Researchers question NZ fisheries management success

Click on the flag for more information about New Zealand NEW ZEALAND
Friday, June 16, 2017, 01:50 (GMT + 9)

An international team of fisheries experts questions the statements on New Zealand’s sustainable fisheries system efficiency, which has always been claimed as “world leading”.

According to these scientists, critical gaps in fisheries data and problems with the way catch and effort data is collected mean there is a “lack of scientific data available to run the quota management system (QMS)”, which is compounded by “industry capture” of the regulator, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

The 12 study authors are researchers of the University of Auckland, Otago, Waikato, British Columbia, Oxford and Botswana International University of Science and Technology, and a fisheries consultant with decades of government and industry experience.

“Claims by MPI and the fishing industry about the excellence of the QMS simply do not match the facts,” says researcher Dr Glenn Simmons from the New Zealand Asia Institute at the University of Auckland Business School.

For her part, Professor Liz Slooten from Otago University stresses that: “The majority of New Zealand fish species are managed on the basis of fishing industry information only, such as self-reported catch and effort data, without any independent science. Many of these fisheries are doing very poorly and causing serious environmental impacts. New Zealand is failing miserably at looking after the majority of our fish stocks for the public.”

Also a member of the team that wrote the paper on the issue, Professor Steve Dawson, Head of the Department of Marine Science at the University of Otago, points out that the “world leading” spin on the QMS is “so often repeated that it is now earnestly believed by the majority.

In his view, while the notion that New Zealand leads the world might promote a healthy spirit of innovation, it can also degenerate into smugness and complacency – such complacency is rife in MPI and among politicians.

The authors of the document, which was published online in the official journal of the prestigious US-based National Academy of Sciences, outline the following issues:

  • Fisheries data shows management of most New Zealand fish species relies entirely on information provided by the fishing industry. Failure to collect independent scientific data is now recognised as one of the reasons why Canadian northern cod stocks were consistently over-estimated until they collapsed in 1992.
  • Three quarters of the fish stocks have no formal stock assessment at all.
  • Funding for stock assessment is about 45 per cent of levels in the early 1990s; the number of QMS stocks has increased 3.5 times in that period.
  • Data on ecological impacts are inadequate for most fisheries, with observers on only 8.4 per cent of fishing boats, despite repeated recommendations for government officials to increase coverage.
  • A groundbreaking 2016 study led by Dr Simmons showed that widespread illegal dumping and misreporting have distorted catch statistics for decades.
  • An independent review of the MPI’s handling of illegal fish dumping and dolphin by-catch “demonstrated industry capture of the regulator.” 

“The QMS has resulted in the majority of fishing quota being bought by a small number of companies and wealthy individuals. This has been bad for small-scale fishers, bad for managing fish populations and bad for protecting the marine environment,” Professor Dawson concludes.

In a statement, an MPI spokesman said they appreciate the importance of critical debate in the scientific community, but they stand behind the scientific findings that show New Zealand's fish stocks are in good shape.

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