Ministry fails to control long-running illegal fishing

The review of the Ministry of Primary Industries’ decision not to prosecute fish dumping and other offences over more than a decade shows the ministry urgently needs to change its culture, Forest & Bird says.

“The review confirms that the ministry is in bed with the fishing industry and is failing to ensure commercial fishing is sustainable,” Forest and Bird Advocacy and Campaigns Manager Kevin Hackwell said.

“The purpose of the ministry’s fisheries section is to protect the public interest, not to promote the interests of the fishing industry.

“The ministry has to change its culture to do what it was set up to do – ensure the health of the marine environment and secure the long term future of the fisheries for all New Zealanders.”

The review by former Solicitor General, Michael Heron QC, was ordered in May after revelations the ministry failed to prosecute clear breaches of the law. These offences included fish dumping, non-reporting of catches and the likely non-reporting of dolphins being killed as by-catch.

Kevin Hackwell said the review highlighted some of the poor enforcement by the ministry in the past but it failed to address the key issue of the ministry being too close to the industry.“The response of MPI Director-General Martyn Dunne to the review also suggests he does not accept the need for a fundamental change in the way the ministry does its job,” he said.

The review says that the key reason that no prosecution occurred as a result of Operation Achilles was because a court case would have been potentially embarrassing to MPI or officials.

“The prosecutions would have highlighted the huge amount of regular illegal fishing industry behaviour, such as dumping and high-grading, and that would have shown how poorly fisheries are managed in New Zealand,” Kevin Hackwell said.

The failure to prosecute followed evidence uncovered in three MPI investigations: Operation Overdue, Operation Achilles and Operation Hippocamp.

In Operation Achilles, six cameras were placed on six fishing vessels, revealing illegal dumping of between 20 percent and 100 percent of some quota species. Only 11 percent of the 273 trawls by the six vessels were examined but even this small sample revealed 30 different offences.

The ministry’s own investigator said the offences clearly met prosecution evidential guidelines but none were taken to court.

Although the ministry is now putting surveillance cameras on more fishing vessels, the company providing the technology is owned by the major fishing companies.  In effect, the fishing companies are being given control over providing evidence of their own offending.

“Around 90 percent of world fish stocks are now fully or over fished. And it is not just fishers from other countries that are disregarding sustainable limits,” Kevin Hackwell said.

“The Achilles and Hippocamp reports showed that some in the New Zealand fishing industry have a long way to go. Forest & Bird would argue that the Ministry of Primary Industries does too.”