Thursday, May 19, 2016

A criminal industry

The fishing industry is 80% criminal. That's the natural conclusion you get from reading the Operation Achilles preliminary investigation report (leaked to NewsHub), which found widespread dumping of fish at sea:

The operation was part of a trial of CCTV cameras onboard the boats, and it found four of the five vessels equipped with the technology "openly discarded substantial quantities of quota fish" without reporting it.

What is of particular concern, though, is that the report states that between 20 percent and 100 percent of some quota fish were being discarded every time the net was pulled up.

As noted previously, this is serious criminal behaviour. And yet astoundingly, despite having clear evidence, MPI refused to prosecute, supposedly after legal advice saying that it could not be used in court. I'm currently seeking a copy of that advice or a summary of reasons under the OIA, but the report suggests an extremely disturbing practice:
As I understand it the Ministry has previously ignored offending (dumping) that has been observed and recorded by Ministry of Fishery Observers because an assurance had been given to the vessels concerned that all such offending that was seen would be disregarded and no prosecution action taken. It is understood that this agreement was reached as a condition in order to allow the Observers on board the vessel in the first instance.

Which is just fucking unbelieveable. As Susie Ferguson asked this morning, what is the point of observers if MPI can't act on their observations? It appears that MP is utterly captured by the fishing industry and unwilling to enforce the law. In which case, why are we paying them $73 million a year to do so? maybe we should sack them all and hire people actually willing to do the job?

The report raises serious questions about the legality of this practice. But more importantly its just stupid policy which allows fishers to get away with environmental murder. Accepting observers on a vessel should be a requirement of holding quota. It is that simple. And refusal or intimidation should result in the quota being revoked. Ditto cameras. As for the concern that fishers would interfere with cameras or obstruct footage, a severe strict liability offence seems to be a justifiable solution. Because its clear that trusting the fishing industry to obey the law and honestly report catches when they have strong financial incentives not to and an entrenched and pervasive culture of lawbreaking is a mug's game. Instead, we need mechanisms to enforce honesty, starting with prosecutions. They're criminals, and they should be treated as such.