Fourth MPI operation revealed nearly half fishing boats illegally dumping fish

About half of 42 monitored inshore fishing boats were allegedly illegally dumping fish in a fourth operation by the Ministry for Primary Industries, referred to in the Heron Inquiry but not otherwise publicly disclosed.

As in other cases where fish dumping was witnessed by MPI observers, no fishers faced any consequence from the Ministry for Primary Industries.

“This new information makes a mockery of the Minister’s claims yesterday that illegal fish dumping is not widespread,” says Forest & Bird Campaign Manager Kevin Hackwell.

“MPI’s largest inshore observer operation to date, that Forest & Bird know of, allegedly found about half the observed boats crews were throwing fish overboard.  It is completely misleading for the Minister to repeat MPI’s claims that illegal dumping is not a problem.

“MPI is hopelessly conflicted by trying to be both the promoter and the regulator of an industry that shows flagrant disregard for the law. The Minister needs to stop repeating ministry spin, and sort out MPI's very serious conflict of interest,” says Mr Hackwell.

The Heron Report refers to a 2009 programme to monitor interactions with dolphins in the fishing industry by monitoring 42 fishing boats.  According to the report, fish discarding was allegedly reported in about half the vessels.

Michael Heron’s investigation revealed that then National Manager Fisheries Compliance blocked an investigation into one of the vessels involved in the 2009 summer dolphin observer programme. This resulted in no action being taken on any of the other 42 vessels involved in the programme despite the widespread discarding that was observed.

“One of the most disturbing aspects to the Heron Report is the extent to which illegal discarding of fish appears to be normalised in the fishing industry and tolerated by senior MPI.  It is obvious that MPI has become too close to industry to do its job properly.”

“What’s worse is that the industry and ministry appear to have been misleading New Zealanders about the scale of the problem. Just yesterday, the Minister continued to deny that dumping is a widespread issue. In 2014, MPI’s own Director of Fisheries manager described in an email that fish discarding as a systemic failure of the current fisheries management system and is so bad that it might be impacting on fish stocks.  The levels disclosed are far greater than the 5-6% claimed by MPI.”

"This law breaking is so widespread and tolerated that the Heron report noted that fishing boat skippers in 2013 accepted that they illegally discarded fish but that this was conduct that had always occurred.  As Heron observed, the law appears to be regularly disobeyed."

Relevant sections of the Heron report

5.2.28    My inquiries confirmed that there was a direction from senior management in 2009 to ignore discarding and misreporting of quota fish detected on one of the vessels involved in the summer dolphin observer programme.

5.3.29    The direction was given by the then National Manager Fisheries Compliance and it resulted in no action being taken on any of the other 42 vessels involved in the programme despite discarding allegedly being witnessed in about half of them.

5.3.30    This in turn had a flow on effect that resulted in offending that was detected by observers involved in inshore dolphin programmes not being followed up or actioned.

5.3.31    The direction given was confirmed to me by a number of people involved although it was explained by the then National Manager Fisheries Compliance that it was intended to be limited to direct compliance action on the particular issue rather than broader impact. A subsequent email from him was intended to clarify the matter. It did not seem to and the information I was given suggested the impact was broader.

5.3.32    Notwithstanding the direction, an investigator was assigned the 2009 observer report of  discarding and commenced an investigation of it. That investigation was later halted upon confirmation of the direction by the same person.

5.3.33    Whatever the intention behind the direction, it created the impression in Compliance at least that they ought not investigate or prosecute in circumstances where observers were on-board vessels for the purpose of observing marine mammal interaction.