In a move that can only be described as the fox guarding the hen house, the fishing industry has released plans for self-regulation. At this years Seafood Industry Council (NZSIC) conference the new plan is being called “Managing Our Own Ship“.
A “conservative estimate” from NZSIC said the strategy could increase the quota value of the industry by $2.5 billion. We all know how much the National government loves the old money carrot on the stick approach but hopefully they have enough sense not to welcome this new plan with open arms. Going by National’s ideology driven approach though I don’t have a lot of hope. Let’s repeat the National mantra: “What’s good for the economy is good for New Zealand. What’s good for the economy is good for New Zealand. What’s good for the economy is good for New Zealand” ad infinitum.
The “Managing Our Own Ship” plan includes proposals to harvest species and fishing areas in line with when world markets will give the best price, such as when there are shortages in supply from other countries or national holidays when a lot of seafood is consumed. The odd thing however, is that the seafood industry has been doing this for at least the last 20 years, so what is “Managing Our Own Ship” really all about?
Further into the plan we see proposals such as the industry taking control of research into whether quotas are sustainable and regulating the impact the industry has on seabirds. The official word from NZSIC is “Industry can do it more efficiently and we want to look after our own business. We want the benefits and we should be the ones to put in the investment to get the benefits and rewards.”
But should we trust the New Zealand fishing industry to manage itself? The NZSIC run website ‘The Greatest Meal on Earth‘ states that “New Zealand is an area where eco-systems have never been overfished and are effectively managed for ecological sustainability”. However the Ministry of Fisheries (MoF) website sings a slightly different tune: it talks about how orange roughy stocks effectively collapsed in the late 80s. And orange roughy stocks are currently estimated to be between 13-30% of their original biomass, an amazing statistic for a species that has “never been overfished“. As well as this the Challenger (ORH7A) orange roughy fishery has been effectively closed since 2000 and the MoF website states, “Of our 11 roughy stocks, scientists think six are probably near or above the government’s target level.”
NZSIC also says that Hoki “is not and has never been over-fished“. This is despite the fact that the total allowable catch was slashed by MoF from a high of 250,000 tonnes in 2000 to 90,000 tonnes in 2007 Those are huge cuts for a fishery that has never been overfished.
Another point against self-regulation is a 2009 paper released in the journal Marine Policy that found “unobserved vessels’ reported catches were significantly different to observed vessels’ catches. There was clear evidence of misreporting in the hoki fishery”. I imagine if the fishing industry was self-regulated information like this would never even come to light.
It is clear that the fishing industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself anymore than any other business sector. There is little doubt that self-regulation will be more profitable in economic terms for the businesses involved but it will be at a huge cost to the ecosystems that they derive their income from. National would be making a huge mistake to hand over more power to the fishing industry and in the end it would be the people who would have to deal with the consequences.