Fishing boss admits it's "commonplace" to not report bycatch

A director of West Coast fishing company Robson Fishing Partnership/Impulse Fishing admitted the company failed to report seabird deaths for three years, in an Employment Relations Authority case. Forest & Bird has referred the case to the Ministry for Primary Industries for investigation.

In 2014 the fishing outfit sacked a skipper who took a personal grievance to the Employment Relations Authority. The case involved allegations of a culture of cruelty to seabirds and an admission by one of the directors that no seabird deaths were recorded between 2011 and 2014 despite accidentally killing 20 seabirds per year.

During the case, the director of Robson Fishing/Impulse also alleged it was commonplace within the industry to fail to report seabird deaths and the deaths of other non-quota species.

It is an offence under the Fisheries Act to fail to report seabird deaths.

“The problems with this company show why we need cameras on boats. It’s fundamentally wrong that it should take an employment dispute to reveal what was happening on board this vessel,” says Forest & Bird spokesperson Geoff Keey.

“Had there been cameras on the boat, there is no way the company could have hidden the number of birds it was killing, and it’s extremely unlikely there would be any question of a culture of cruelty to birds.”

The director’s allegations, that failing to report seabird deaths and other non-quota species is common place, is backed by MPI documents showing the 3% of the set net fishery with observers accounted for 13 of the 14 penguin deaths reported in 2016, while the 97% of the fishery that had no observers claimed to catch only 1 penguin. 

“Unfortunately, non-reporting like this seems to be such a persistent problem with the fishing industry that it now has a serious problem with its public credibility. More government observers and cameras on boats are the best way for the industry to restore confidence and credibility,” says Mr Keey.

“Only a few weeks ago. Forest & Bird revealed the fishing industry had written to MPI to try and hide the information from fishing boats from public scrutiny. Rightly, the Minister of Fisheries rejected this as an affront to public transparency. It would be even worse if information about the environmental impact of fishing wasn’t collected in the first place.”

The Employment Relations Authority determination can be found here.


Admission of not reporting bycatch
[155] Andrew was candid in his evidence that he estimated that there would have been approximately 20 accidental, or incidental, deaths of seabirds per year over the combined trips that he and Mr Smith skippered. He was also candid in admitting that although he was aware that their deaths had to be reported no seabird deaths were reported at all during the time Mr Smith worked for Impulse, no matter whether he or Mr Smith were the skipper.

Allegation of not reporting bycatch being widespread
[156] Andrew’s evidence at the investigation meeting was that as far as he was aware it was commonplace within the industry to fail to report sea bird deaths, and the deaths of other non-quota species.