The New Zealand fishing industry likes to talk about our "world-leading" "sustainable" fish quota management system. But like out other "world-leading" tradeable quota scheme, the ETS, its not all its cracked up to be:
Half of the fish caught in New Zealand waters do not show up in official records because they are dumped at sea or not declared, an explosive new study claims.
The study recommends that the quota management system undergo "robust critical review".
The total catch between 1950 and 2010 was 38.1 million tonnes, the study says, compared with a reported catch of 14 million tonnes.
The main reasons for this difference were unreported commercial catch and fish which were discarded because they were too small, uneconomic, or because the fisher had no quota.
Or, to put it another way: fishers lie. And they lie so often and so systematically that the QMS, which depends on them honestly reporting catches, is basicly worthless. But far worse than the (expected) dishonesty of fishers is the reaction of MPI to evidence of this: cover it up:
The paper quotes an MPI investigation in 2013, which said: "The sight of large, perfectly good fish being systematically discarded in such large quantities could have a huge negative effect, as it could easily stir up an emotive backlash from not only the New Zealand public, but from international quarters as well."
It added: "This combined with the fact that we have known about these dumpings/discarding issues for many years, and would appear to have done little to combat it, would be very difficult to explain and be unpleasant at best."
MPI are supposed to enforce the law. But rather than treating over-fishing as a serious criminal matter - something they'd do if it was a few Maori guys stealing paua - they turn a blind eye and treat it as a PR problem to be managed by cover-up. The fundamental problem here isn't just lying fishers, but an "enforcement agency" utterly captured and compromised by them.
Greenpeace is calling for an independent inquiry into this, but we need more than that. Starting with an immediate suspension of quota to compensate for misreporting, prosecutions of overfishers, and a purge of MPI to ensure that they work for us and not the industry they are supposed to be policing. Until the government does this, its "world leading" system will be just like the ETS: a bad joke covering environmental destruction.