by Mark Feldman
Printed by courtesy “NZ Fishing News”
The previous article I listed a few of the initial defects of the QMS. Now I’ll look at some examples of how the system has failed us since it’s inception and how you can help preserve the fishery for your children.
a) The number of fish in the water has continued to decline. The hapuku (groper) is a typical example of this failed management. There has been no research, the catch is steadily declining despite major technical improvements, the catch is consistently below the quota and the fish are steadily retreating to deeper and more remote waters. It wasn’t so long ago that hapuku could be caught off the rocks! Many more examples of bad management follow.
b) The biomass of crayfish, especially in Cray 2, have declined to such a degree that it’s termed “functionally extinct” and yet fishing continues! This is an excellent example of managers failing to consider the implications of a decreasing catch despite the fisher’s improving techniques.
c) The entire East Coast tarakihi stock has been fished down to 15% of the virgin biomass. It has been below the “knife edge” target of 20% for two decades now without effective management. The fish are caught by bottom trawl, a highly destructive method that damages the very environment the tarakihi need to survive. The Ministries’ solution is the so called “Tarakihi Rebuild Plan.” This plan is voluntary and is a “too little, too late” approach that has only a 50% chance of boosting the biomass to the 40% level in 25 years! Forest and Bird has applied for a High Court hearing to block this decision to allow East Coast tarakihi stocks to remain overfished because it is “not environmentally sustainable or legal.”
d) Hoki are one of our most important commercial species yet the quota is set so high that it has been under-caught for the past three years. Obviously there is a serious problem with the quality of the stock assessments and the decision making at the Ministry. Stock assessments based on models are subject to huge errors caused by the “shit in-shit out” principle. All we need to know to sharply reduce the quota or even close the fishery is that the quota can’t be caught. Of all the species in our waters the hoki should be the best cared for. It is not.
e) The Maui dolphin only lives in NZ and it’s the world’s most endangered sea mammal. It is endangered because our fishermen catch them in the gill-net and trawl fisheries; two methods that are terribly indiscriminate and environmentally destructive. This problem has been known to exist for decades yet the Ministry did nothing. That is, they did nothing until Sea Shepherd filed a law suit in an American court to block the sale of NZ caught fish in the United States. Sea Shepherd was able to do this because the Americans have a law against importing fish from countries that fail to prevent the by-catch of marine mammals. After all this the new rules are confusing and DO NOT ban set-net fishing out to the 12 mile limit along the entire West Coast. How pitiful is it that we are unable to protect our own endangered species without a lawsuit being filed in a foreign country?
f) The management of the blue cod has been especially sad with the recreational limit down to two fish in many places. Meantime the commercial limits have not been caught for years in others. The fact that things have gotten this bad is a measure of the long term failings of the Ministry. Again, this the the consequence of “knife-edge management” and how easy it is to fall off that “edge.”
g) The snapper biomass in Snapper 1 has gone nowhere after 34 years of dysfunctional management. The Snapper 1 Strategy Group plan is a joke. It lacks any meaningful catch reductions, does nothing about the habitat destruction caused by bottom trawling, and it MIGHT rebuild the fishery by 2040! Not likely; it’s just more procrastination like the Tarakihi Rebuild Plan.
h) The vast schools of trevally, fished relentlessly by the purse seiners in the 1970s, have not been allowed to recover. It won’t be long now until all the people that remember those vast schools will have died off; the tragedy we call “generational amnesia.” The quota in Trevally 1 has been set so high that it has not been caught for decades!
i) Foreign fishing vessels dominate our offshore fisheries (hoki, squid, jack mackerel, barracouta, blue whiting). Very few have observers aboard yet we know these boats are guilty of a wide variety of offenses. No one seems to be asking what the hell these foreign vessels are still doing in our waters after all these decades when we could have developed our own fleet and created all sorts of jobs for our young people.
j) The problem of dumping has grown with the system. Estimates are that 1/3-2/3 of the catch of inshore trawlers are dumped and that the number of fish dumped exceeds the entire recreational catch! The movement to have cameras on all vessels to monitor these activities has been blocked. The Ministry wanted to have the few cameras that were operating supervised by the Trident corporation which just happened to be owned by the commercial fishers! If that’s not embarrassing enough, the Ministry wants FishServe (owned by Seafood NZ) to be in charge of collecting and storing all the commercial fishing data and monitoring overfishing.
k) The few cameras that are in use have illustrated dramatically the extent of fishing violations including the killing of endangered dolphins, fish dumping and the relentless killing of sea-birds. The report by the Heron Commission that looked into these antics confirmed these failings with the Ministry actually getting caught lying to avoid the public finding out why they failed to prosecute. The Serious Fraud website suggests some “Warning signs of fraud, bribery or corruption” are to look out for “unexpected or illogical decisions accepting projects or contracts,” “agreeing to contracts that are not favourable to the organization,” and “avoidance of independent checks on tendering or contracting processes.” What more can I say?
l) The commercial fishers have been unable to catch their quota for years in many fisheries (gurnard, hoki, tarakihi, red cod, red snapper, trevally, blue cod, hapuku, etc, etc). There’s no doubt that the commercial fishers know how to find and catch fish. They also have better tools to do it with every year. If they can’t catch their quota faster every year something is seriously wrong and that fishery needs to be closed or the catch drastically reduced until the Ministry gets off its ass and figures out where the problem is.
m) The Ministry has refused to recognize the financial and cultural importance of the
recreational fishery. You all know the rest of this story.
n) The total $20 million budget for fisheries research has not increased since the QMS came in. You might think that’s OK until you realize $20 million buys a small fraction of the research that it did 34 years ago!
o) The scallop fishery in SCA 7 is especially poorly managed with a history of gross over-fishing, multiple closures, lack of an immediate response to a declining commercial catch, and failed experiments of spat deposition into an environment devastated by the dredges. After the dredges destroyed the environment the spat needed to survive what did they think would happen?
There are a lot more examples but I’m sure you can spot the pattern here. What we must ask ourselves now is how an organization whose only purpose is to protect the fishery for future Kiwis has failed so badly despite the expense of millions of tax payer dollars. Surprisingly, the possibilities are limited:
- The Ministry is run by incompetent morons: It would be convenient if it was this simple but I doubt it is.
- The Ministry is so entangled within their relationship with industry that to act now would declare their past failings and prove very embarrassing. This is certainly the case but it does not explain how they got entangled.
- The real problem has been summarized by Darcy K. Leach: “If bureaucracy happens, power rises. Power corrupts.” Corruption takes many forms; it does not always mean an envelope full of $100. bills. It could take the form of legal political contributions like the $10,000. given to Shane Jones’ 2017 campaign by Talleys or the $26,950. Talleys gave to the NZ First Foundation which was shrouded in secrecy by giving a series of small contributions to avoid the declaration threshold. Or it could be as simple as nights out with lobbyists, friendships between bureaucrats and industry leaders, or suffocating scientific meetings with fleets of well paid lobbyists. It might even be the hope of a more lucrative job with industry; or it could be all of the above. The bottom line is the same; the culture at the Ministry is the key issue and that culture needs a complete make over. How can this be accomplished? NOT by more meetings like the ones that led to the so called Tarakihi Rebuild Plan and the Snapper 1 Strategy Group Plan. These meetings were endless, soul sapping diversions that only served the Ministry’s goal to avoid taking responsibility for the hard decisions.
The principles of “Rescue Fish” developed by LegaSea are ALL good ones but they ignore the elephant in the room; the need to directly attack the culture of the Ministry. This is where big changes need to be made. The Ministry is not a robot. It is run by people; some of them are not doing their jobs and some are blocking other people from doing their’s. We need to find out who they are. LegaSeas’ push for a Commission of Inquiry is a good idea but not sufficient. Millions of dollars are involved here and the Serious Fraud Office ought to get involved. If we follow the money we’ll have a much better idea how this dysfunction evolved.
This brings us to the last issue: money. LegaSea suggests we pay the industry between $0.76-$3.1 billion dollars to buy back the quota we gave them for free. That seems a little incongruous to me. There are a few obvious principles we need to follow:
- Quota that has not been caught IN THE PAST has no value and no reimbursement is needed for quota that never had any value anyway. This would include all the species mentioned above and many others. I specify “in the past” because the last thing we want is a rush on the fishery by quota holders in order to make a money grab.
- The big quota holders have captured much of their quota by outbidding small fishers. Essentially they have speculated on an asset and deserve no reimbursement for that sort of greed.
- It follows that the MAXIMUM reimbursement value of the quota should be about what it was in 1986 when it was gifted to the fishers. No increase in price to allow for inflation is indicated because industry has profited from the asset and is returning it in damaged condition.
- The degree of damage to each quota asset needs to be calculated. The people of NZ trusted the commercial fishers to take care of a valuable resource. With the complicity of the Ministry they failed to do that. For instance, quota in Cray 2 is valueless because the crayfish are now “functionally extinct.” Likewise, the tarakihi and hoki quotas are no longer catchable. The resource has been damaged and is now of markedly reduced value because too many fish have been removed. Many other species fit into this category.
What can you do to help?
- You can sign the Rescuefish petition at https://rescuefish.co.nz/take-action/petition/.
- You can support LegaSea’s efforts at https://legasea.co.nz/support-us/donate/.
- You can help the Forest and Bird lawsuit to protect the tarakihi at https://www.forestandbird.org.nz/resources/tarakihi-overfishing-goes-high-court.
- You can pressure your MP. You can tell your MP that the Ministry has corrupted itself, an inquiry is needed, and the Serious Fraud Office needs to investigate how “mistakes” worth hundreds of millions have been allowed to happen.
Or, you can do nothing, and your children, and your children’s children, will inherit an empty sea.
On light tackle, especially the fly rod, the kahawai is a tremendous sports fish. But kahawai numbers have been severely depleted by corporate company purse seiners