A former director of Leigh Fisheries is calling for a review of the Quota Management System (QMS) after taking part in research that found millions of tons of fish are being illegally dumped in New Zealand.
Leigh resident Barry Torkington was one of a team of 11 researchers that released a report that estimates the NZ fishery catch is 2.7 times more than what is reported, mainly due to unreported commercial catch and catch being discarded at sea.
The study is a collaboration between the University of British Columbia and the University of Auckland and forms part of a global review of fisheries catch figures.
Mr Torkington was invited to take part in the study by lead author Dr Daniel Pauly, due to his experience in the industry in NZ.
He says the QMS creates an incentive for fishermen to dump catch they don’t hold quota for, which has meant the impact of fishing has gone under-reported.
“The public are repeatedly told we are the envy of the world with our quota management system,” Mr Torkington says.
“This report dispels that myth. “It’s an inevitable consequence of a quota system because you can’t choose what you catch.
“The system needs a complete overhaul. There is no band-aid that can be applied. They are systemic issues.”
Under current regulations, fishermen are meant to bring ashore all catch of quota species and pay an invoice, a bit like a fine, for the catch that exceeds their quota, Mr Torkington says. But many fishermen dump the catch, rather than pay the price.
“Most of what you receive will be paid to the Government, so there’s no incentive to land it.”But, the fishermen operating under Leigh Fisheries are not the main issue, he says.
“Most of Leigh Fisheries’ catch is from long-lining, so even if there is somediscarding, the volumes aren’t great. Most of the dumping is done offshore in the deep-sea fisheries. It’s when you get a net of fish you don’t want that the problem starts.”
The Ministry for Primary Industries has been dismissive of the report. It issued a press release saying the research relies too heavily on anecdotal evidence and that fish stocks are a more important measure of sustainability.
“The overwhelming majority of fish caught by commercial fishers came from stocks where sustainability was not a concern,” MPI fisheries management director Dave Turner says.
But, MPI director general Martyn Dunne has since called for an independent review of an MPI report which found widespread illegal dumping during inspections in 2012 and early 2013.
Mr Torkington says MPI has lost credibility and is ineffective at managing the fisheries in a sustainable manner.
“The rationale is contradicted by their own reports. Widespread dumping has been happening for a long time. The degree of defence they go to –it’s like they are unpaid consultants for the industry. It’s not the public interest they are representing, it’s private interest.”
Mr Torkington is a former fisherman and was director of Leigh Fisheries in the 1990s and has been a long-time critic of the QMS. He recently chaired a major conference in Snells Beach looking at the impact and future of fishing in New Zealand.
New Zealand was a world leader when it introduced a quota management system in 1986 and it has since been introduced around the world.