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NZ fishery catch 2.7 times reported – new study says

Written By: - Date published: 9:30 am, May 16th, 2016 - 15 comments
Categories: capitalism, Economy, Environment, sustainability - Tags: ,

tall talesNew Zealand’s fishery catch has been estimated at a staggering 2.7 times more than reported, over a 60 year period, according to a new, long-term, peer-reviewed study.

New Zealand’s fishing quota system has been paraded as an international success story of how a national fishery can be sustainably managed, but, as long suspected by many industry observers, cheating on an industrial scale and a huge discarded by-catch calls into question issues of both management and sustainability.

The total amount of marine fish caught in New Zealand waters between 1950 and 2010 is according to the best estimate, 2.7 times more than official statistics suggest, according to the study, which is part of an international collaboration between 400 researchers that sought to fill the gaps left by official catch data.

The study is part of the 15-year “Sea Around Us” project run out of the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia.

The global results were published in the respected Nature Communications journal in January.

The New Zealand results have now been published by the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

Unreported commercial catch and discarded fish, by-catch, accounted for most of the difference between the reported and the actual result, said lead researcher Dr Glenn Simmons, from the New Zealand Asia Institute at the University of Auckland Business School.

Since the Quota Management System (QMS) was introduced in 1986, the total catch is conservatively estimated to be 2.1 times that reported to the FAO, with unreported commercial catch and discards accounting for the vast majority of the discrepancy.

“Fish of little or no perceived economic value have been routinely dumped at sea and not reported. By-catch – fish caught along with the target species – is common and unavoidable. They’re routinely dumped if unmarketable, under the minimum legal size, or if the fisher has no quota,” Simmons said.

Some 24.7 million tonnes of fish went unreported from 1950 to 2013, compared to the 15.3 million tonnes reported, according to the study.

Only an estimated 42.5% of industrial catch by New Zealand flagged vessels was reported and 42% of the industrial catch was caught by foreign-flagged vessels, which dominated the catching of hoki, squid, jack mackerels, barracoota and southern blue whiting – some of the most misreported and discarded species.

“The findings also reveal how the QMS, despite its intentions and international reputation, actually undermines sustainable fisheries management by inadvertently incentivising misreporting and dumping,” Simmons said.

“A striking finding was the extent of misreporting to avoid deemed value penalties – at sea and on land. This highlights a weakness of the QMS, which relies on full and accurate reporting, yet, in practice, incentivises misreporting.

“The evidence shows the QMS is in need of a robust critical review, along with consideration of alternatives to ensure the latest information, processes and technology are being utilized,” he said.

Simmons said a starting point for sustainability is knowing how much fish is being caught.

Unreported catches and dumping not only undermine the sustainability of fisheries, but result in suboptimal use of fishery resources and economic waste of valuable protein, he added.

“If the industry is catching more than double the amount of fish it is reporting as having caught, this calls into question the sustainability of fisheries management in New Zealand, Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said.

“The National Government must ensure that our fisheries data is accurate and reliable. Fisheries Minister, Nathan Guy, needs to close the loopholes that are allowing systemic under-reporting and dumping of our fish,” she said.

Catch statistics that New Zealand and other countries report to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) do not include illegal or otherwise unreported commercial catches and discards. They also leave out, or substantially under-report, fish taken by recreational and customary fishers, Simmons said.

Recreational and customary catch was 0.51 million tonnes, or 1.3 percent of the total.

The New Zealand researchers said they drew on an extensive body of documentation, including stock assessment reports, peer-reviewed literature, unpublished reports, information obtained under the Official Information Act, as well as 308 confidential interviews with industry experts and personnel with first-hand knowledge of fishing and reporting practices.

They combined this data with official catch data to statistically “reconstruct” a more comprehensive, robust catch estimate. The same method was used throughout the global series of studies.

The study found global catches peaked at 130 million tonnes in 1996, which is 51% higher than the FAO figure of 86 million tonnes and there has been a sharp decline from this peak, at more than three times the rate suggested by FAO figures.

Sage called for the government to establish and make public video monitoring of catches, and increase the number of government observers on commercial vessels and at port coverage.”

(Simon Louisson formerly worked for The Wall Street Journal, NZPA, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post and was most recently a political and media adviser to the Green Party)


15 comments on “NZ fishery catch 2.7 times reported – new study says ”

  1. One Anonymous Bloke 1

    Watch the National Party attack the messenger, deny the message, and proclaim the market will sort it out. They’ve taken too many bribes to address anything honestly.

  2. Stuart Munro 2

    The QMS is a failure on many levels.

    1) It introduced a layer of capital cost that wiped out most small operators.

    2) It introduced a new rentier class, quota holders, who contribute nothing.

    3) It cannot deal with predictable population fluctuation much less unpredictable population fluctuations.

    4) It increases the cost of innovation.

    5) It makes no distinction between high and low impact fishing methods.

    I should explain about 3, predictable population fluctuation arises from events like el nino, which was first described by latino fishermen from its effect on catches. The unpredictable fluctuation is events like the crayfish run year. Every 7 or 8 years, there used to be a crayfish run. These are characterised by much higher catches, and by larger, lighter coloured crayfish, possibly from deeper water. Crayfishermen used to subsist in the ordinary years, but the run year would allow them to pay off their boat or their mortgage. It was also appropriate in population terms – harvest more when there is abundance, and catch less during scarcity.

    The QMS is a comprehensive failure in population terms, but appeals to economists because it pretends that this delicate and variable resource is only money.

    It’s also expensive to monitor and regulate.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    “The findings also reveal how the QMS, despite its intentions and international reputation, actually undermines sustainable fisheries management by inadvertently incentivising misreporting and dumping,” Simmons said.

    The profit drive bringing about uneconomic results yet again.

    Sage called for the government to establish and make public video monitoring of catches, and increase the number of government observers on commercial vessels and at port coverage.”

    There’s this new invention called satellites that could help here. They’d be quite capable of observing catches and dumping. One going overhead on a polar orbit every ten minutes should suffice.

    But using them would require than NZ have a space program so that we could develop, build and launch such satellites.

    • Stuart Munro 3.1

      If you need a satellite to watch you, to prevent improper fishing practices, you should be de-licensed.

      The failure of industry culture and regulatory regimes is widespread, and the way to address it is to move away from bulk extraction fisheries to artisanal fisheries – from high impact low value to low impact high value.

      Not of course a priority for a useless corrupt pack of lying assholes like the current government, but described to some degree here: http://www.amazon.com/Four-Fish-Future-Last-Wild/dp/014311946X

      The Asian governments were more confidant in developing their fisheries than Europe, and largely achieved better results in spite of overfishing. They supported local fisheries as a process of rural development, by building infrastructure like markets, (and ultimately a live fish distribution chain) which also supported local agricultural and horticultural efforts, and resourcing fishery development institutes that developed both local fisheries and aquacultural capacities.

      NZ has some superior eating fish, most NZ companies don’t even know which they are.

      You can tell an improperly managed fishery by what’s available for sale locally – a wide variety or an abreviated selection of well-known species.

      • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1

        If you need a satellite to watch you, to prevent improper fishing practices, you should be de-licensed.

        There’s always going to be those who lie and cheat. Sure, they’re the minority but they’re still going to do it and as they do they’ll become richer and more powerful than those who don’t. We see this all around us in society today. Most, if not all, of the rich and powerful are liars and cheats. It’s these people that the law is for, the minority that will take advantage of there not being any laws.

        As these people will continue to exist then we need a far better way to watch than merely ‘culture’. We’ve seen relying upon culture will do – it leads us to the destruction of the environment and society. People on each boat won’t do it as those people will come to relate to the people doing the fishing and will help them lie about it. Aircraft also won’t do it due to the long hours of sheer boredom and huge costs.

        That leaves satellites with automatic detection and measuring capability.

        • Stuart Munro

          The landed product mix tells the tale – these numbers were not produced by satellite, but from catch data. We police land-based criminals, policing floating ones is no different.

          It was culture, not law, that turned a blind eye to slave fishing. The law already forbade it, but culpable ministers decided they were beneath the law and enabled it. Prosecute those retired politicians and the laissez faire culture will change – let them go unpunished and the rogues will breed new scumbags.

  4. Chooky 4

    Good interview from Kathryn Ryan this morning:

    ‘NZ’s catch nearly three times official count – study’


    “A damning report on the number of fish caught in New Zealand waters has exposed six decades of under-reporting, and puts the true catch at nearly three times official figures.

    It also reveals deliberate and systematic fish dumping, institutionally embedded misreporting, high levels of wastage and warns that essential data is either lacking or missing because of inadequate reporting.

    The study was conducted by The Fisheries Centre at the British Columbia University in collaboration with Oxford and Auckland University. Dr Glenn Simmons was the lead researcher. Dave Turner, The Ministry of Primary Industries’ Fisheries Management Director responds to the criticism of MPI leveled in the report.”

  5. ianmac 5

    On Country Calendar on TV1 Saturday, a fisherman was demonstrating an innovative way of letting undersized fish escape safely from the netting. He had attached a wire cage at the end of the net so small fish were able to escape rather than being crushed in an ordinary net as it was hauled in.
    We need such developments.

    • Sam C 5.1

      I agree ianmac. That was a great example of what can be achieved, given the will to be sustainable and a bit of ingenuity.

      Of course, another critical part of the jigsaw is having the resources available to adequately monitor NZ’s EEZ from the plundering of both domestic and foreign trawling.

  6. greywarshark 6

    Great image Simon. Also this issue has been obvious and complained about for decades now.

    The mass of inertia that is government (acronym MOI – new government measuring tool on 1-5 for-worst-scale!) cannot bring itself to put its foot down and bring about sustainable policies good for NZ.

    As long as it can point to having done something and get brownie points f in the fish hunting world for having a Clayton’s system that enables big pirates to operate in its shadow, we smaller pirates can go on and cut and dice and fillet down to the bone.

  7. Wayne 7

    I am skeptical that the catch is really 2.7 times greater than reported. I note the NZ representative is in the business school, not in biology.

    So before I give credence to this report I would want to hear what NZ marine biologists are saying, what NIWA says and what MPI says. I can easily imagine underreporting of up to 50%, but this would be more than 200%.

    If the work is the equivalent of what the researchers at Tulane said about job growth in NZ (under TPP) then it will get the weight it deserves.

    • gsays 7.1

      Hi Wayne, I think you would struggle to find a marine biologist with anything good to say about the ocean.

      When you did I would be keen to know how many you asked before you found them.

    • The New Student 7.2

      Good luck with that. CRI’s aren’t permitted to say much about anything. Universities are just as muzzled

      • Wayne 7.2.1

        Not correct.

        NIWA, whose expertise is in this area will have something to say. After all the report effectively impunges all their work in this area over the last two decades.

        And I am pretty sure we will hear from the marine scientists at AU. It’s their job to say something to the public on an issue of this importance, either affirming the report or being critical of it. They must surely know one way or the other.

        • Stuart Munro

          Why would you think that? A fishery is the classic black box – only the catch gives concrete data, and the catch is subject to reporting failure.

          Someone will stand up and invent a defence for this government’s incompetence as usual, even if it takes a large donation to the Cabinet Club – that’s how third world kleptocracies work after all.

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