The fishing industry has serious questions to answer after a report from 2012 revealed alleged illegal fish dumping by hoki fishers was ignored by MPI fisheries managers, while the fishery continued to be certified internationally as sustainable.
The fishery was certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council during the entire period of the alleged offending.
The report revealed significant fishing dumping in the hoki fishery had been known about since before 2005, quantified in 2005, and then subsequently ignored by MPI fisheries managers when setting stocks in 2006 and 2011. [pg 9, 3.4].
“It seems that the Government and the fishing industry didn't admit to the Marine Stewardship Council that there were problems with illegal discarding until 2016 - four years after the report was published," says Forest & Bird CE Kevin Hague.
"Instead the fishing industry trumpeted its sustainability certification while hiding what appears to be significant illegal fish dumping.”
Forest & Bird has consistently objected to certification of the hoki fishery because it kills hundreds of NZ fur seals, albatrosses, and petrels each year and catches globally threatened basking sharks. When bottom trawling, the fishery destroys seafloor ecosystems and habitats.
The kinds of illegal discarding alleged in the report include covertly disposing of whole fish in offal chutes, misreporting other quota species caught as bycatch, and dumping fish overboard when fisheries observers weren’t thought to be watching.
“We all knew the fishery kills protected species, but we have been shocked at the alleged extent of illegal discarding that appears to have been ignored in the past by fisheries managers,” says Mr Hague.
The report referred to “invisible eels” and noted that the reported catch of conger eels was only 19% of the predicted catch, reported catch of basketwork eels was only 3% of the predicted catch, and no swollen-head conger eels had been reported at all. The report dryly noted “it seems reporting of eel captures leaves a great deal to be desired.” [Bottom of page 70 7 71, and pg 135].
Reporting of shark bycatch was described as chaotic and shambolic and the report warned that New Zealand was making little progress towards achieving the goals on an International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks that New Zealand had endorsed [Second to last para of page 69, pg 136].
"The Marine Stewardship Council needs to seriously reconsider its certification of hoki in light of the industry’s huge failure. Previous sustainability certification was based on deliberate and dangerous misinformation about hoki catch quantities and therefore population levels. MSC must take this massive breach of trust and law seriously."
“This report shows the kinds of poor management of fisheries that the new Fisheries New Zealand must avoid if credibility in fisheries management is to be restored.”
“Putting cameras on boats and increasing the level of observer coverage would reduce the risk that fishing companies might engage again in this kind of offending," says Mr Hague.