Conflict of interest what conflict of interest?

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, April 3rd, 2017 - 22 comments
Categories: business, journalism, national, russel norman, same old national - Tags: ,

Greenpeace has cast further light on the murky arrangement whereby the fishing industry makes decisions itself on such things as the issuing of licences, the managing and the investigation of claims of overfishing.

From Kirsty Johnston at the Herald:

A company contracted to monitor overfishing, manage quotas and decide on licences for the fishing industry is wholly owned by – and working out of the same office as – the industry’s biggest lobby group.

The extent of government powers held by the company, named FishServe, and its links to the industry group, Seafood New Zealand, were uncovered by investigators at Greenpeace.

For the past 20 years the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has been outsourcing a swathe of monitoring duties to FishServe, the investigation found, including checking quota compliance and receiving catch reports.

“What this means in practice is that, in order to prosecute fishing companies for legal breaches, the government regulator, MPI, has to rely on data collected and provided by a company owned by the fishing companies themselves, FishServe,” said Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman.

The company, Commercial Fisheries Services Limited, has some striking links with Industry lobby entity Seafood New Zealand Limited.  Both companies share the same office and the same receptionist as well as the same managing director Tim Pankhurst.  And Fishserve is wholly owned by Seafood.

Of course there is no conflict of interest.  None whatsoever.

At least a spokesperson for Fishserve thinks there is no problem.  She was quoted as saying this:

She said although FishServe was a wholly owned subsidiary of Seafood New Zealand, it was also an approved service delivery organisation in its own right, established under government statute.

“This has been the case since 2001. It has its own dedicated chief executive and staff, who do not report directly to SNZ. It is funded through collection of fees from the industry.”

And this was backed up by responsible Minister Nathan Guy.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said there was no conflict of interest, because FishServe was “an administrative tool”, and had no regulatory function.

“It is like a mailbox for collecting data,” he said. “It has been publicly operating for over 20 years with no issue, and with a range of checks and balances on the data collected.”

Guy’s claim that it has no regulatory function needs some investigation.  Under this regulation in 2013 it was given a number of functions, duties and powers previously held by the Chief Executive.  There is a huge list of them relating to the management of fishing quota.  For instance they include the power to decide that an owner of an interest in fishing quote without the necessary consent should forfeit that quota.  There is also the power to require someone who has aggregated too much quota to forfeit that quota.  These powers are surely greater than the simple collection of data.

If the powers are so mundane then why not retain the public register?

And the system appears to be broken.  A high level inquiry led by Mike Heron QC decided last year that there were instances where MPI’s decision making process regarding to prosecutions was confused, not well documented and not well communicated.  Having a private entity controlled by the fishing industry responsible for a large chunk of MPI’s statutory duties including the collection of evidence will only make things worse.

Greenpeace’s Russell Norman sums the situation up well.  Again from the Herald:

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman said he believed the situation was an example of “regulatory capture”, borne from a “web of complex relationships” between MPI and industry.

“What it means in practice is that, in order to prosecute fishing companies for legal breaches, the government regulator, MPI, has to rely on data collected and provided by a company owned by the fishing companies themselves, FishServe,” he said.

“This is something that at the very least warrants further investigation and we’ll be looking to refer this to the Auditor General for review.”

22 comments on “Conflict of interest what conflict of interest?”

  1. ianmac 1

    Yet another example of airy fairy left wing conspiracy setting out to try and bother a Government which is working hard to do the right thing for every fish and every New Zealander. Hmmph!
    And the NZDF has never ever deployed in the Tasman Sea so Russell Norman’s claims are rubbish! Rubbish I say!

    • mickysavage 1.1


    • AB 1.2

      More corporate theft of a natural asset that belongs equally to all citizens within a proper framework of sustainability.
      Just like water. So hands off our fish!

  2. Ad 2

    It’s the fishing company leverages over Ministers that bug me.

    Seeing the Maori Party fold to corporate Maori fishing interests about the Kermadec reserve proposal was bad.

    Seeing those other big fishing companies on the National Party donors list is creepy.

    And head of Talleys getting knighted. Ultra anti-workers’ rights.

    It’s not as if they deliver massive value-add to their products to defend them on productivity grounds.

    Will take an almighty tough future Minister to unpack any of it. I’m pessimistic.

    • mickysavage 2.1

      One of the Talleys is a director of Seafood New Zealand Limited …

    • Draco T Bastard 2.2

      Seeing those other big fishing companies on the National Party donors list is creepy.

      Corporations should not be able to donate to political parties at all.
      Lobbying should be banned.

      And head of Talleys getting knighted. Ultra anti-workers’ rights

      People should only be knighted if they’ve been of service to our society and made it better. Talley got knighted for services to business and those ‘services’ have made our society worse off.

      • To ban lobbying you’d essentially need to ban writing letters to MPs. Better to regulate lobbying so it doesn’t have an oversized impact compared to normal communication from constituents. (Banning paid lobbyists from lobbying on Parliament Grounds is one step. I think currently we just identify them on the idealistic theory that politicians will ignore a lobby with enough spare cash to hire paid lobbyists)

        There’s a reasonable argument for banning corporate donations, (ie. they’re not people and thus have no business supporting politicians, and it inherently creates a perception of corruption to have the businesses themselves doing the donating rather than, say, their owners) or even putting caps on donation amounts in general. (ie. busy people should absolutely be able to donate money instead of time, but maybe not tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per campaign, as past the point of donating the average wage, you’ve essentially bought more labour than you could have donated)

        The trick is doing this without the National Party spinning it into an assault on free speech.

        • gsays

          thanks matthew for shedding some light.
          i would like to be rid of the ‘business interest’ lobbyists.

      • Wensleydale 2.2.2

        I’ve always thought the word ‘knight’ has been bandied about with gay abandon for so long it’s become almost meaningless. If we really wanted to sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of knighthoods, we must hold a tourney. All these doddering old robber barons who aspire to knighthood will be compelled to don full plate armour, and bludgeon each other into submission with axes and morning stars. If you’re still standing at the end of it, well done old chap, you’ve just passed muster. If you soil yourself, curl into the foetal position and start crying for your mum, tough luck, try again next year.

        I’m guessing Talley would fall squarely into the latter category.

      • rob 2.2.3

        Look up national party president Peter goodfellow and his interests in commercial fishing!

  3. Antoine 3

    Is the monitoring role tendered regularly, or simply assigned to FishServe by law?

    It would seem better practice to have a competitive tender every X years, unless there is some reason why only FishServe can ever provide this service.


    • It would also seem reasonable to have a non-capture clause in such a tender that the monitoring agency can’t be owned by anyone with significant stakes in the industry.

    • mickysavage 3.2

      They have their status for the next six years unless Government changes its mind.

      • Antoine 3.2.1

        Doesn’t seem ideal.

        • mickysavage

          Not being ideal is one way to describe it.

          There are others, like insane and you have got to be kidding …

        • AB

          I see Google Translate now supports ‘Antoinese’. Not as you might expect a sub-dialect of Cantonese but an entirely new language spoken in boardrooms, leafy suburbs and a venerable restaurant in Parnell owned by a regular National Party donor. Anyway I plugged in the Antoinese-to-English translation:
          “Doesn’t seem ideal” = Corrupt

  4. adam 4

    Look Squirrel…

  5. Tamati Tautuhi 5

    The President of the National Party, Peter Goodfellow, his Family Trust is the largest shareholder in Sanfords, one of New Zealands largest fishing companies.

  6. JC 6

    WTF!… Not just here but through out the Pacific!

    Their visit followed an invitation from Prime Minister John Key at the Pacific Fisheries Forum last year, offering island nations to “examine New Zealand’s catch-based fisheries management systems” (C-BFM).

    “In Wellington, the New Zealand seafood industry-owned FishServe, which administers and manages commercial fishing quotas in the country, outlined how it helps manage 100 quota species, 635 quota stocks; and annual catch entitlements of 610,000 tonnes across 1,537 quota share owners, 1,050 permit holders and 1,200 vessels.”

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