Collusion, corruption, contradictions and cover ups in fishing industry, stink.

By   /   September 25, 2016  /   16 Comments

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Those of us interested in the marine environment either as fishers or as conservationists, have known for a long time that in general, current commercial fishing practices stink.


Those of us interested in the marine environment either as fishers or as conservationists, have known for a long time that in general, current commercial fishing practices stink.

A Quota Management System vainly celebrated as the ‘world’s best’, that allegedly encourages misreporting and dumping as fishers seek to extract premium value by throwing less valuable stock overboard. An industry that University of Auckland Business School scientists say has discarded 2.7 times the reported quantities caught. Marine mammals such as Maui and Hector’s dolphins and New Zealand sea lions, and sea birds, are almost extinct because they’re by-catch. A fishing fleet that seems to act with ignorance, impunity, and a minimal level of observer coverage, compliance and enforcement. Assumptions that ‘deals have been done’ to avoid prosecution. Hitherto, labour abuses. Unsavoury links between the National Party president Peter Goodfellow, and the Seafood Industry Council and Sanfords where he’s a director and major shareholder. Scope for corruption given that an agency overseeing the small amount of fishing observation are also industry operators. There’s evidence of collusion, contradictions, denial, capture, and cover-ups.

As always, we should be grateful to the whistle blowers who leaked internal emails in which senior Fisheries management staff admit that fish dumping ‘is so widespread, the current system is failing’, and that officials ‘have been unable to get on top of it since day one of the Quota Management System (QMS)’. Fisheries managers have said unreported fish dumping is having an impact on fish stocks, and that if those wasting fish, and hiding dumping, were prosecuted in accordance with the law, about half the current fishing operators would go out of business. Both the public, and NGOs argue there’s evidence of a ‘systemic failure of the QMS’, and the failure to prosecute is no less than scandalous.

Commercial fishing operators held their stare the longest and managed, somehow, to exert enough pressure on Ministry of Primary Industries Fisheries managers, that clear evidence of tonnes of fish dumping, unreporting, and the killing of dolphins in nets, was considered not worthy of prosecution. It does make you wonder just what it would take to get a prosecution, if not this standard of evidence and scale of transgression.

Fisheries managers considered the reputational risks to MPI from not prosecuting, and the risk of not providing clear sanctions to the fisheries operators. They said in an internal email, that “the offending from (five of the) six vessels using camera monitoring as part of a summer Hector’s dolphin observer trial, was “of such a scale and blatancy that a warning (without prosecution) would seem disproportionate to the offending and could be seen as MPI sending the wrong message to industry, the public and our trade partners”, “as it may appear we are undermining our commitment to sustainability and conservation of our fisheries”. He also said “we need to hold people to account when they transgress”. The evidence was “overwhelming” and “beyond dispute”. Despite advice on the strong grounds for prosecution from the Crown Law Office, and penalties available including fines of up to $250,000 and forfeiture of fishing vessels, just warning letters were sent.
The Minister for Primary Industries and MPI senior staff try to quell the rising tide of public outrage by assuring us prior unreported dumping of perfectly good fish is irrelevant now because the Ministry is moving on. When Glenn Simmons from the Business School released the findings of his research about the scale of fish dumping earlier this year, Fisheries Manager Dave Taylor changed his earlier private tune and publicly said there was no problem. But in the independent report commissioned under pressure by MPI, Solicitor-General Michael Heron QC, said the failure not to prosecute was deeply flawed, and that there’s evidence that rather than tightening compliance efforts, MPI has subsequently failed to either change the law, or enforcement of it.

There’s a tragic and perverse irony that the leaked video footage showing the hauling up and throwing overboard of perfectly good fish, as well as endangered Hector’s dolphins, came about as part of a summer Hector’s dolphin monitoring programme. Six fishing vessels out of Timaru agreed to be part of the electronic video monitoring trial. But there’s speculation that most others refused because they’d be caught for the same thing. And if transgressions were found on at least five of the six boats monitored, just imagine what’s happening unobserved. No wonder Fisheries managers say a substantial quantity of QMS fish is discarded, that it’s “the single biggest issue we face in our wild stock fisheries”; that it’s impacting on stocks, as confirmed by Glenn Simmons’ report. Fishing skippers themselves admitted they ‘didn’t even really know the rules’, and ‘they’ve never been not guilty’ of fish dumping, and ‘that if they wrote down every species they killed, they’d need a stack of books a mile high’. No wonder Hector’s dolphin numbers have decreased in the last forty years from an estimated 30,000 to an estimated 7000 now, according to University of Otago figures.

Under pressure, MPI make promises of 100% electronic (camera) observer coverage – which is by no means perfect in itself. But there’s no evidence of improvements in any sort of hurry, in a dysfunctional relationship where the fishing industry seems to have more power than the regulatory agency tasked with monitoring them. Fishermen have presumed immunity, they’ve been able to refuse observers on board, the fishing industry is both poacher and gamekeeper. There’s been little prosecution against ‘those who transgress’.

Meanwhile, those dolphins that were supposed to be managed through this observer programme, have been filmed hauled up drowned in nets, with reporting inaccurate there too and no prosecutions taken. It’s reminiscent of another hollow promise where Minister of Conservation Nick Smith, made a big song and dance in 2012 about introducing 100% observer coverage on fishing boats operating in the core habitat of endangered Maui dolphins off the North Island West Coast, but doing so has required the removal of observers from the East Coast South Island fishing effort out of Timaru, itself killing Hector’s dolphins and dumping fish. Even now, total observer coverage for Maui, the most endangered marine dolphin of them all, stands at around only 25%.

Public confidence in MPI is shot. This country’s environmental reputation takes yet another blow. That Fisheries manager was right when he said, with the fisheries abuses allowed by MPI, “we are undermining our commitment to sustainability and conservation of our fisheries”.

We can judge society by how it treats its weakest and most humble, just as we can judge industry and industry regulators by how well they manage and prosecute against their own injustices. In New Zealand’s fisheries, because of the economic imperatives involved, and strong links between the government, the fishing industry and supposed fishing regulators, systemic injustices prevail. These injustices are committed against the common environmental interests of New Zealanders, against our endangered dolphins, against fish stocks and future generations.

Christine Rose is employed as Kauri DieBack Community Co-ordinator by the Auckland Council. All opinions expressed herein are Christine’s own. No opinion or views expressed in this blog or any other media, shall be construed as the opinion of the Council or any other organisation.

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  1. XRAY says:

    Of all the questionable, dodgy, deceptive, misleading and corrupt things the Key National government have done over the last 8 years, this one is the granddaddy of them all.

    It even surpasses the Saudi sheep bribery, that word has it key government players have outrageously refused to cooperate in the inquiry into it. And as far as corrupt practices go that one took some beating, but this one is off the scale.

    Look at the base issues.

    Behaviour by fishing companies and the treatment of their workers amounting to slavery has been employed by our fishing industry and agents thereof.
    The fishing industry polices the fishing industry.
    There have been virtually no prosecutions for breaking the law which is widespread and serious.
    NZ’s fishing industry is being destroyed as a result of quick profit taking.
    We have robust laws to protect the fisheries but we have equally robust systems put in place, by National, to ensure those laws are impotent.
    We will have extinct species before the decade is out at this rate.
    The very wealthy President of the National Party is part of the fishing industry.
    The reverse Midas Touch Minister Nick Smith is involved and the rottenness is so very typical of his involvement.

    And as per normal we largely don’t know who within the National Party is getting what out of this arrangement or who is donating to them to make this corruption happen.

    The kind of thing I have read in this article and others would not raise an eyebrow if it happened in some of the many tin pot corrupt regimes around the world. You expect this kind of thing in North Korea, and various parts of the African continent and South East Asia but never here, until now.

    Think of the National Party as a vehicle to bring rich men together to further business opportunities, relationships and profits rather than a party who represents the people of this country and it logically explains the mess the fisheries are in and more.

    Hence laws exist and laws are bypassed. When it gets so outrageous a lying machine within the National Party fires up and hoses the whole controversy down in an oblivion of misleading deception, empty promises and distraction until its allied media friends let it fade away. And always most importantly appearances and the right noises are made but the substance is purposely missing.

    It is pure unadulterated text-book corruption.

  2. Justme says:

    Fish dumping is the lowest of the low. But corruption reigns supreme in the Key government. It is likely John Key cares and loves money more than he would ever care about NZ, NZers and the environment.
    I am sure others will view my comments here with disdain and ridicule but surely alot of that fish(that was dumped)could have fed so many people in NZ who are starving? Excess fish could be used as Kai to feed so many NZers.
    But no. This government allows/condones fish dumping. Much like this government condones multi-corporate tax evasion/avoidance and condones oversea property owners here in NZ to make tax claims. and hence again avoiding paying tax.
    This governments(and please excuse the intended pun here)chases the small fry eg a Maori guy fishing for trout to feed his whanau; whilst turning a blind eye to the amount of fish dumping the larger companies are getting away with.
    If/when Key & co say the country cannot afford to spend such ‘n such an amount of money(lets say 28million)on people then we know there is a deep problems. Especially when this very government has allocated $20billion(probably borrowed money from some benevolent overseas source)to the military.

    • Steve King says:

      Corruption? Spelt “corruptjohn”.

    • WILD KATIPO says:

      ” This governments(and please excuse the intended pun here)chases the small fry eg a Maori guy fishing for trout to feed his whanau; whilst turning a blind eye to the amount of fish dumping the larger companies are getting away with.”

      Excellent point.

      So what of it , John Key ?

      Is this more of your racist , bigoted and contemptuousness regard not just for Maori but all New Zealanders?

      Is this a prime example of your contempt for our legal system ?

      Our environment?

      If the housing crisis is anything to go by I would say it is a perfect example. Its time you left our shores and are voted out of power. You are corrupt.

  3. Takere says:

    Industry partners:
    The Limited Partners in the Trident Systems Limited Partnership are quota owners representing a significant proportion of quota in inshore finfish and deepwater tier 2 stocks:

    Sanford Investments Ltd
    Moana Fishing Ltd
    Charisma Developments Ltd
    Independent Fisheries Ltd
    Star Fish Supply Ltd
    Solander Maritime Ltd
    Chatham Island Quota Holdings Ltd
    ICP Inshore ACE Limited Partnership
    Kahungunu Asset Holding Company Ltd
    Leigh Fisheries Ltd
    Gisborne Fisheries 1955 Ltd
    Urwin & Co Ltd
    Lyttelton Trawling Co Ltd
    Egmont Seafoods Ltd

    Their share of the fishing industry in total is $1.6bn. Something worth protecting I think they’d be thinking.

  4. Blake says:

    100% Christine – Thanks for focusing on this important issue.
    Dirty Politics and Greed reign again with this “out of touch” government.
    The fish suffer: the sea environment and sea ecosystems suffer but the
    greed and business and exports flourish – AT A HUGE EXPENSE ! ! !

    Corruption reigns supreme, yet again, as the environment and resources are used and then used again for profits and for self centered; no conscience. Self centered ARROGANCE allowed unchecked by a government who cares more for their image and PROFITS than ethics and morality.

  5. CLEANGREEN says:

    I’m with JUST ME

    This is the worst case of squandering of our resources we have ever seen, the creeps.

    They should be in jail as if it was you and me they wouldn’t hesitate to throw us in the slammer just to make an example of us.

  6. Steve King says:

    This issue has been bobbing around for some time now but has only recently resurfaced (boom boom) in the msm. It will be interesting to see (a) if any opposition parties can make any headway with it, and (b) what the nats will do to try to shut it down. It is utterly disgraceful.

  7. Afewknowthetruth says:

    It is now difficult to think of any sector of NZ society that is not seriously affected by ‘Collusion, corruption, contradictions and cover ups’.

    Central government
    Civil engineering
    Environmental monitoring
    House construction
    Local government
    Pest control
    Road construction and maintenance
    Road transport
    Port operations
    Tax collection

  8. Blake says:

    Again — and yet again – where is my comment ? ? ?

  9. Quick Thinking says:

    How could any sensible person believe quota management would work to promote sustainable fish stocks when the motive for fishing is profit? Its like any farming system in that you can’t keep on harvesting, there needs to be planting & growing first. The plant illustration is lacking somewhat to describe the fish life cycle but the principle is similar. With the technology available now constant monitoring of commercial fishing is essential to reduce abuse. As a former President is reported to have said “Speak softly & carry a big stick” is the only way to act, recreational fishing should be kept honest as well with regard to bag limits also.