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MPI fails to notice major dolphin bycatch error

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Forest & Bird says there are serious questions to be answered by the Ministry for Primary Industries after the agency confirmed that 39 dolphin captures reported last year was actually a coding error.

Forest & Bird first raised the alarm over the reported dolphin captures in December 2017, after receiving official MPI data on bycatch in the Bay of Plenty. Two months down the track, MPI has admitted to Forest & Bird the original data was based on a ‘coding error’ on board a fishing boat, and the species caught was actually petrels.

"Swapping dead dolphins for dead seabirds is no great relief for Forest & Bird," says Forest & Bird’s spokesperson Geoff Keey.

“This admission tells us there is a major systems failure at MPI, which is seriously undermining their ability to protect New Zealand's ocean environment.

“It is hugely concerning that no one at MPI or the fishing company seemed to notice let alone react when a skipper reported 39 dolphins had been caught in three consecutive fishing incidents.

“Those three incidents in 2017 were equivalent to a 20-fold increase on the previous annual average of dolphin captures, yet neither MPI or the fishing company noticed anything was out of the ordinary,” says Mr Keey.

“It took Forest & Bird speaking out for MPI to even look into the incident. How could MPI get such a large data spike in dolphin captures and not immediately investigate?” says Mr Keey.

“In this case, the skipper made a human coding error, but it is well known that deliberate under-reporting of bycatch also happens in the fishing industry.

“Most fishing boats do not have an observer on board. With no way to verify facts the country depends on crews accurately and honestly reporting what they catch. Mistakes and false reporting are a reality, which is why we need cameras on fishing boats.

"If a camera had been on this boat, MPI could have reviewed the footage, and the mistake would have likely been caught much earlier. This is yet another reason for the Government to commit to cameras on commercial fishing boats.”

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