In an attempt to manage our fisheries, a multitude of management tools have been invented. But in the end, it still relies on fishing companies’ honesty in reporting what they catch and that they don’t dump anything.
That’s of course not what’s been happening. One company is brave enough to foreshadow the consequences of cameras capturing what really goes on at sea.
Tony Threadwell and Andrew Stark are second-generation fishers.
The trawlers they operate account for most of the inshore fishing that goes on off the Canterbury coast. …
Both men were keenly aware of the bad publicity fishers have been getting lately around fish dumping and wanted to make sure I had a good understanding of the conditions they were being forced to operate under.
Mr Threadwell said the quota management system forced inshore fishermen such as him to break the rules.
He had little control over what his nets pulled up, which meant he could often end up with 30 different species in them in a single catch, he said.
The rules said under-sized quota fish such as barracuda, which he could not sell, must be brought back to shore.
While he was reluctant to talk about it, Mr Threadwell said this just wasn’t practical or economically viable for most fishers.
In English, they break the rules and dump non-saleable catch at sea.
This needed to change before cameras were used to force fishers to comply with a set of unworkable rules, he said.
“It would be very very difficult for any inshore fishermen in New Zealand today to go to sea and not commit a technical offence and that’s just ridiculous. There really needs to be some commitment from government in conjunction with industry to sit down around the table to sort out some of these problems … There needs to be a credible and practical discards policy that allows us to continue to work in an environment without breaking the law.”
Some catch limits had not changed since the quota management system was introduced 30 years ago and this needed to change, Mr Stark said.
It was hard for fishers to talk about what was really going on in the sector for fear they would be prosecuted, but most knew the rules around dumping were not working.
“Fishermen have only ever brought home fish which they are going to be paid for … and you could have a species which doesn’t have a minimum legal size and could be the size of a small ballpoint pen and legally that should be landed. It was never landed prior to the quota system and in most cases that doesn’t come home today.”
Both fishers believed introducing cameras before the quota management system was sorted out would unfairly penalise fishers like them.
And according to Auckland University’s Glenn Simmons, they were right to be nervous.
“Particularly those who fish in mixed fisheries, that is going to have a significant economic impact on their ability to turn a profit and I think if the cameras are monitored correctly, [and] it’s complimented with observer coverage, we will definitely see half the fleet go out of business. That’s not only my view, but that’s the view of a considerable number of officials from within MPI and former officials.”
Mr Guy said, while changes were needed, fundamentally the system was a good one.
“If you have a look at three or four international reports, they’ve all put it up on a pedestal. The [British] Columbia University in Canada ranked it as one out of 41 fishing countries, the World Bank and Marine Policy Journal ranked it about one out of 53 countries.”
Consultations with the industry on changes to the system, which could include a possible ban on all discards, were continuing.
To manage the fisheries stock, the first thing that needs to be done is to have accuracy in reporting. But if that means that during this phase half the fleet will need to be taken off the water, that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
There is a huge problem with the system as it stands now because boats are simply not commercially viable if they return the by-catch to shore. Similarly, with cameras on board, the fines and prosecutions would similarly put them out of business.
The government clearly needs to figure out a way where it can start measuring the real catches and work on solutions as opposed to treating the companies like they have been caught going over the speed limit and thoughtlessly applying fines.