Guest post – I am a fisherman, I am conservationist and I’m not a criminal


Photo/ Supplied

I am proud to be a commercial fisherman.  The fish I have caught has contributed to the NZ economy and kept thousands of Kiwis whether ashore or at sea in employment, a roof over their heads, food on their tables and money to achieve their dreams.

And I’ve had a guts full of being slandered, called a criminal and my integrity questioned by NGOs, environmental groups and other such organisations with political axes to grind and the ever growing need for funding from Mrs Smith donating $5 a week from her housekeeping she can ill afford.

I know my peers throughout the industry feel the same way.  It used to upset me when my children came home from school refusing to eat their fish and chips because teacher said I kill Maui dolphins.  They’re old enough now to see both sides and form their own opinions.

I have never, ever deliberately discarded or dumped fish.  I have lost bags of fish over those 40 odd years through gear failure and because Old Huey, Manawydan Mac Lir, doth smote me mightily but those instances I can count on the fingers of my hands…with a few digits left over.  These accidental losses were recorded.

The deep water trawlers I am currently involved with are the largest on the NZ coast, which depending on the species, have a capacity of around 80-100 tonnes of DRE (dressed) or HGU (headed/gutted) frozen product over a 24 hour period.  If I’m fishing for southern blue whiting for example, 100 tonnes of frozen product equates to 165 tonne of whole fish before processing.

Since the introduction of the QMS, Glenn Simmons claims I have dumped or discarded 2.1 times or 210% more than I actually recorded as having caught.  He would have you believe I am actually catching 511.5 tonnes and discarding 346.5 tonnes back into the sea every 24hrs, day in and day out.

Doesn’t the absurdity of those figures ring alarm bells?  If not they should because I simply cannot catch that much fish; my ship, her fishing gear nor the fish stocks allows me to.  It’s just not possible.  

The official, audited, scientifically robust data from MPI, NIWA and the Observer Programme puts the overall discards from the deep water fishery at 6.6% and this figure includes legal and reported discards!

Audited, scientifically robust data?  Yes it is.  It comes from the Trawl Catch Effort log books filled out by, well, the likes of me.  It is corroborated by data collected and observation made by MPI observers, block and carton weights carried out by MPI Fishery Officers and a host of other checks and balances sea and shore based; in fact the fishing industry is the most highly regulated industry in the country.

I am bemused by the figure of 2.1 that Glenn uses.  He hasn’t said “roughly 2 times” or “approximately 200%” but a definitive 2.1.  It is a precise figure, one which he obviously believes is robust enough to make these statements so why won’t he allow other parties access to this data?  Something smells rotten in the state of Denmark.

What I find it disturbing is Glenn Simmons deliberately ignores data from NIWA and MPI instead appears to use data extrapolated from anecdotal evidence from what appear to be disaffected aggrieved crew on foreign charter vessels.  I don’t care what field you work in, that is unprofessional and in my humble opinion brings into question the credibility of his findings and casting the net further, and no pun intended, by association the credibility of the institution he’s employed by.

I don’t want to rain on Mr Simmons parade but despite our fish stocks being rather healthy we are a very small player in the global sense.  We simply do not have the catching capacity in our inshore and deep water fleets to sustain or reach the level of discards he claims.  Had this discarding been happening to the extent he claims, our fisheries would have collapsed decades ago.  They haven’t and are in fact rebuilding despite Glenn’s allegations.

One MPI paper states that observer coverage for the total fishing effort is between 20-25% however in the deep water fishery, observer coverage is considerably higher between 60-100%.  I have worked with MPI observers for decades.  Their role over the years has expanded from one of fish, feathers and fur to health and safety, Maritime NZ compliance and a whole heap more and it can be a wet, cold and thankless job at times.  For Mr Simmonds to question their integrity by suggesting that they are ignoring, turning a blind eye and failing to record the dumping / discards of millions of tonnes he says is going on is simply wrong and insulting.

I am not saying I haven’t discarded fish.  I have; I’m allowed to.  In fact in most cases where I have discarded fish I was bound by NZ legislation to do so.  Where there is a minimum size limit I must ‘discard back to the sea’ those fish under that limit irrespective if they’re alive or dead.  Some species that are alive and likely to survive may be returned to the sea but must be recorded.  Protected species, i.e. sharks, must be discarded dead or alive.  If I haul a bag and it is contaminated which has happened from time to time with a 44 gallon drum of oozing sludge, broken glass or other contaminants that pose a food risk to consumers, I can discard the fish but for every discard I must have observer permission to do so and it is recorded by them and by me.

If Mr Simmons is happy to use interviews and anecdotal information to support his claim then I can too.  I ride around the country on my motorcycle talking to fisherman and writing articles for local and overseas magazines.  I’ve spoken with a lot of inshore fishermen over the past decades, most of whom state unequivocally that the inshore fishery is ‘coming back’; this rebuilding occurring despite the alleged unreported dumping.  Fishermen tell me they are finding it harder and harder not to catch fish, particularly those species they don’t want.  This is a good thing right?  Wrong!  Well, yes and no.

While it does have its idiosyncrasies, the QMS is a great tool for managing our fisheries and despite what the critics say and it pointless trying to convince them otherwise when their heads are buried in the sand, probably the best management tool in the world.  However it needs to be more responsive to yearly and seasonal fish stock fluctuations.  In years where a species is predominant the TAC can be raised, where another species is down, the TAC reduced but to be able to do this the science has to be up to date and able to respond quickly to these seasonal variations.  Currently it doesn’t and I can’t recall when the last comprehensive inshore surveys were done and TACCs adjusted to best reflect the current state of the fishery.

Which leads on to the elephant in the room; Deemed Values.  DVs were initially created to provide an incentive to land fish you could not cover with quota.  The objective was that the fisherman did not make a profit.  In other words, no-one lost money by doing the right thing; by reporting what you caught and landing it.

However, things turned to custard when Jim Anderton, the Minister of Fisheries at the time introduced a DV system that saw levies increase exponentially to a point where a fisherman trying to do the right thing could be severely fined, oops I meant levied, up to 600% more than what he could sell the fish for!

Rather than provide an incentive for good behaviour, this draconian and utterly punitive regime has achieved the opposite while adding considerably to the Crown’s coffers.  I would argue the Crown has deliberately kept TACCs simply as a money making exercise.

It has also pushed the ACE price for quota through the roof beyond the point most fishermen and companies can’t afford.  Given the choice of going broke or going to jail, DV’s have forced many smaller operators from the industry which has had a very negative effect on their local communities.

I am a fisherman, I am conservationist and I’m not a criminal.

Chris Carey


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • shykiwibloke

    Great article and the last part reinforces my belief that leftie policies only hurt the little guys. Socialism is consistent in its ability to hurt those it pretends to help.

    • ridsel

      Double impact when you consider that commercial fishermen are the ones who catch the fish that poor people eat… recreational fishers (except off wharfs) tend to be quite well off given they own or can rent a boat.

      • shykiwibloke

        Good point – the nasty tax just raises the price. (Resisting the urge to ask what has this got to do with the price of fish!)

  • Oh Please

    The trouble with a world of social media is that everyone who is ignorant of the subject has a voice. It’s just like global warming – 99% of those commenting haven’t a clue and are merely spouting a theory that fits their politics.
    Thanks WhaleOil for actually daring to publish information from someone who actually knows the facts – what a refreshing change from the MSM.

  • JeffDaRef

    There’s more reason, fact and verification in this one article than you’d find in a week of the Herald…

  • rua kenana

    About 1980 I was on a government committee that considered what to do about about the then serious decline in a lot of fish species. Our work several years later resulted in the QMS.
    We got a ton of information from a variety of sources, commercial fishers (at least 2 were on the committee, no specific recreational fisherman reps as I remember), independent scientists, govt fishery and ag advisors, and a couple of commercial/economic analysts.
    It was obvious then that many aspects of the fishery was in a bad way and action had to be taken. Hence we now have the Quota Management System.
    The commercial fishery contained good operators, but also others who could only be described as irresponsible cowboys. The failure of the good operators to weed out the bad left rather a bad impression of the commercial fishery, some of which persists to the present day.
    However, what’s past is gone and only the present and future is important.
    It’s really good to hear, and I’ve heard the same from other commercial fishers, that they’re now all responsible, knowledgeable and conservation-minded operators. That really is great.

    • Dave of the West Bank

      “The failure of the good operators to weed out the bad left rather a bad impression of the commercial fishery, some of which persists to the present day.”

      I’d be most interested in knowing the mechanism whereby the “good” operators “weed out” the “bad” operators. I suppose there’s scorn, mockery, sabotage, shooting, sinking, all available whilst busting a gut at sea trying to make a living.

      • rua kenana

        Maybe. Even publicizing what was going on would have helped, instead of colluding together (to “protect” the industry) or turning a blind eye.
        But I’ve been amused for some time how many of the fishing industry became self-styled conservationists only after they were forced to limit their catches by the Quota Management System.
        One side of a story doesn’t tell the whole story.

        • Dave of the West Bank

          I see my request for the mechanism whereby “bad” operators are “weeded” out has been ignored and now we have accusations of “collusion”.


          I certainly take umbrage at your ignorant smearing of an entire industry.

          • rua kenana

            You should wow and take umbrage at whatever you like Dave. If it helps you that’s great. Keep it up.
            (Some of) my background in the industry is given in my first post above. It’s an accurate resume. With the information we had we were able to take a very wide view of the industry, not just from the one perspective.
            If you have a wider knowledge then I wish you well. Please make a better use of it.

  • Keeping Stock

    Fantastic contribution Chris. But that begs the question; we are we not seeing a story like this in the mainstream media, to counter all the damaging stories about how irresponsible the fishing industry is.

    I guess the truth doesn’t sell newspapers in quite the same way that a good conspiracy story does.

    • JeffDaRef

      I am amazed at how bereft of self-awareness the media are.

      They run the shabby hitjobs at the drop of a hat, but when these are swiftly unpicked by the likes of WOBH and others, they show no inclination at all to correct or balance the lines they are running.
      I cant believe for a second they are oblivious to their misinformation, and am fairly sure they read these blogs the same as we do, yet there doesnt seem to be any moves to verify what they are being fed.

  • Dave of the West Bank

    Well said, Chris!

  • Doc45

    Excellent, thoughtful contribution. Thank you, Chris for taking time to put the article together. How stimulating and rewarding to read something of value compared to the puerile nonsense in the MSM.

  • Uncle Bully

    This whole affair needs more investigation. Just because Chris claims to be completely above board doesn’t make the industry clean. There are some dirty operators out there who think only of the here & now without regard for the future of the stocks.

    This piece looks and reads like carefully crafted spin from the fishing industry’s PR machine. Of course it’s going to deny all wrongdoing and seek to discredit any claim of fish dumping and misreporting of catches. Does he think NZ will now believe the fishing industry is pure as the driven snow? Yeah, right.