At the national level, the Labour Party complains: “The relationship between the Ministry and the commercial fishing industry is too cosy. First, MPI refuses to prosecute inshore trawlers despite evidence of large scale illegal fish dumping, and now it has emerged it is outsourcing its monitoring obligations. This is a Ministry in crisis. It can’t even perform its core functions and is instead relying on the industry it’s meant to be monitoring.”

And NZ First calls for a Commission of Inquiry into Fisheries Management “with the authority to investigate quota allocation and trading, how Total Allowable Commercial Catches are set, and the degree of foreign involvement in quota-holding companies”, adding that “the science behind the estimation of fish stocks is under-resourced, as is the enforcement of the laws governing its harvest.”

Meantime, local recreational fishers, organised for lobbying under the banner LegaSea Hawke’s Bay, recently chastised Minister Nathan Guy, whose portfolio includes marine matters, for failing to “deliver on his duty to manage fisheries at a sustainable level”, adding “It was also time commercial fishers took their indiscriminate, bulk harvesting methods out of the Bay.”

According to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, LegaSea HB, the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Department of Conservation, and Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc (NKII) have been working over the past year to improve understanding of the region’s coastal fisheries.

Accountability is tough to secure when responsibilities for relevant activities are spread across a number of key players.

HBRC is responsible for the seabed out to 12 nautical miles and manages coastal areas, including when pollutants are discharged from land to sea. That can include farming and industrial run-off or effluent from wastewater treatment plants entering waterways and estuaries (or directly) emptying into the Bay. MPI manages commercial, recreational and customary use of fish and shellfish. DoC is responsible for marine mammals and threatened species. NKII has an interest in protecting customary rights and also holds commercial fishing quotas.

So what will happen next?

At its June meeting, the Regional Council received a comprehensive report that maps current knowledge of our coastal resources, identifies information gaps and recommends a process to fill the gaps. Group manager, resource management

Iain Maxwell comments: “Recent commentary around the state of our coastal fisheries has been made with too few facts on the table. This research project aims to remedy this and gets all stakeholders on the same page with a common set of understandings.”

The report, now available to the public, was applauded by Brian Firman, LegaSea HB’s spokesperson “as a valuable compilation of data”, but adds that action is overdue and “the fact remains that the current rate of harvest must be dramatically reduced while research continues”.

MP Nash has been persuaded by local recreational fishers that stocks – certainly recreational catches – are declining. Sufficiently so to propose his ten-year moratorium. As he wrote in HB Today: “Ten years is sufficient time to allow the marine scientists to do their work in order to fully determine the state of the fish stocks, the impact of trawling on the seabed, and for fish stocks to replenish.”

Nash is convening an initial stakeholders meeting in mid-July to begin charting an action plan, reflecting on the information presented in the HBRC report. With any luck, friendly competition between Nash and HBRC might ensure that some kind of action actually occurs!

None of this is happening too soon for LegaSea’s Brian Firman.

He notes that MPI-sponsored meetings have been going on since 2014, but are yet to yield meaningful results. Putting cameras and observers on commercial vessels and introduction of fishing nets that reduce killing of juvenile fish are all fine, “but the real need is simple … kill less fish of all sizes in the inshore zone”.

Introduced locally with heaps of fanfare, Firman says the improved nets “will help contribute to the rebuild, but alone will not restore our fishing.” He finds it “ironic that commercial fishers and MPI are only now showing serious interest in a technology that has been around for decades, indicating a blatant disregard for the sustainability of even their own futures”.

MPI criticised

A recent press release from LegaSea HB puts their complaint:

“The token offerings … of net trials, a threemonth exclusion zone around the freshwater springs, not targeting groper on the Lachlan Banks, and more observers on commercial boats are all designed to appease recreational fishers without commercials catching one less takeable fish. Given the recent news of widespread dumping aboard inshore trawlers, these measures fall way short of what is required and are unacceptable.”

“It has been very frustrating that the Ministry won’t accept there is a sustainability issue, they merely describe our situation as ‘local area depletion’. Although Ministry and commercial interests say they are at the table to help, any offerings to date do not include killing one less fish. It’s a simple formula, kill less fish and shift the damaging trawling method further off shore.”

Local recreational fishers support their views with data collected by the HB Sport Fishing Club over the past decade. This data shows a clear decline in catches over the ten years for species including snapper, gurnard, tarakihi, trevally and groper, as shown in the adjoining chart.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of precautionary data that agencies dismiss as ‘anecdotal’, while failing to produce robust data of their own.

The quality of officially-collected data – including New Zealand’s official data – has been seriously challenged by a recent worldwide study conducted by the University of British Columbia and involving the University of Auckland. This study found that NZ’s ‘official’ catch was grossly understated (like that of other countries). Between 1950-2013 New Zealand reported 15.3 million tonnes of catch. The report estimates another 24.7 million tonnes were not logged, most of it being unreported commercial catch and discarded fish.

In other words, our total catch is estimated to be 2.7 times more than what has been reported to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

This issue, and its ramifications for proper management of NZ’s fishing quota system, is addressed in the article following by Trish Rea, LegaSea’s national policy advocate.

Under reporting is not a matter of clerical errors! The reasons given by those with first-hand experience include the routine dumping of quota species, falsifying statutory documents, black market activity and conspiracy.

NKII’s view

NKII is a committed voice on behalf of protecting the sustainability of all fishing – commercial, customary and recreational. NKII commented to BayBuzz:

“We are frustrated by the fact iwi have been back in the commercial fishing industry less than 10 years and it appears we have been handed back fishery assets that the Crown has been poorly governing. We are now heavily involved in correcting the Crown’s poor record of governance.

“We agree the MPI is in crisis … we described their approach as total negligence. There is no credible fishery science data on the east coast other than the records kept of the commercial extraction levels. Our customary fishers are required to provide quarterly returns. Why aren’t recreational fishers providing records of what they take out of the fishery?”

At the same time, NKII is primarily fueled by income from its fishing quota, leasing its inshore quota to Hawke’s Bay Seafoods.

HBS has 200 employees, 90% Māori, most of whom are of Kahungunu whakapapa. With encouragement from NKII, the company has been a leading adopter of the improved nets that reduce juvenile fish mortality.

However, in October 2015 MPI laid 380 charges against Hawke’s Bay Seafoods for failing to supply details of their catch. Those charges are wending their way through the judicial process and, of course in fairness to the company, are yet to be proven. But if they are, NKII will face some difficult choices.

Brian Firman observes that quota owners, while still being paid today, need to realise that “if the fish run out, their quotas are worth nothing.” He says insiders know it’s getting harder for commercial fishers to catch the quotas – they need to fish longer and/or travel farther.

Backing off commercial trawling of course would force a trade-off between protecting short-term jobs and livelihoods and ensuring long-term sustainable commercial fishing.

But in Firman’s view, that’s the only choice … kill less fish in the inshore zone so stocks can rebuild.

Fisheries Commission of Inquiry Required

Trish Rea, LegaSea

Our international reputation is at stake. For 30 years New Zealanders have been sold the line that our Quota Management System (QMS) is a world leader when it comes to both protecting fi sh stocks and encouraging a culture of stewardship.

Recent research has exposed an underbelly of widespread dumping, high grading and misreporting to maximise profits, irrespective of the environmental cost. Kiwis and the world have been sold a pup.

Brian Firman of LegaSea Hawke’s Bay echoes the concerns of Napier residents and recreational fishermen when questioning the integrity of the quota system.

“How can the people of Hawke’s Bay possibly have confidence in the quota system or in the Ministry’s ability to address our local concerns when our fishing has deteriorated so much and officials have been ignoring the blatant wastage occurring out at sea?”

“What’s even worse is that we now start to think that the issues raised so far are just symptoms of much bigger flaws in our management regime. Something has to change and only a broad based, independent inquiry into the quota system is going to be able to get to the bottom of this mess.”

Results from a worldwide study involving the University of Auckland reveal that our total catch is estimated to be 2.7 times more than what has been reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Between 1950-2013 New Zealand reported 15.3 million tonnes of catch. The report estimates another 24.7 million tonnes were not logged, most of it being unreported commercial catch and discarded fish. Recreational and customary catch is estimated to be 0.51 million tonnes, or 1.3% of the total catch, none of which was reported to the FAO.

Issues highlighted during numerous interviews with fishermen will seem familiar to Hawke’s Bay people, many of whom have first-hand experience of an ineffective regulatory regime and fish depletion. These issues include the routine dumping of quota species, falsifying statutory documents, black market activity and conspiracy. LegaSea is one of several public interest groups calling for a Commission of Inquiry.

Spokesperson for LegaSea, Richard Baker, says the Commission needs to be given sufficient power to uncover and expose what is happening under the QMS and within the Ministry for Primary Industries.

“Our concern is that reports of widespread non-compliance with fishing rules by many trawl fishermen, the nonreporting of dolphin captures, and that officials failed to act against offenders further damages our international reputation,” said Baker.

Damning revelations

Reports show that officials were aware that between 20 to 100% of some quota fish were being discarded during every haul on trawlers operating inshore. And, it is estimated that only 42.5% of industrial catch by New Zealand vessels is reported.

The New Zealand catch reconstruction report is part of a global effort to identify the known inaccurate reporting of catches each year to the UN. A similar exercise has been undertaken in over 200 countries and coordinated by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

The research includes excerpts from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ compliance documents exposing widespread and known non-compliance by industrial fishing interests. These offences were allowed to continue unabated.

In effect, Ministry turned a blind eye to the mortality of endangered species and serious offences were allowed to escape prosecution. The research concludes that “misreporting and dumping has been ignored for too long by officials”.

Napier-based Jim Yeoman is President of the New Zealand Angling and Casting Association. He says local members are alarmed at the revelations and they are asking, “Is there a connection between the report and our declining catches over the past decade?” His members want to know the truth.

“As a self-professed 100% pure nation that is supposed to be looking after its natural resources this illegal behaviour is bad news for our reputation and cannot be condoned. At a local level the concern is for our members and families in need, the prevalent reports that perfectly edible fish are being regularly dumped ought to ring alarm bells.”

Where is the stewardship?

The QMS has repeatedly been described in terms of the incentives for stewardship and value creation, and that commercial harvesters would maximise value through innovation, and sustainability would be ensured because it was in the commercial harvesters’ self-interest.

Richard Baker says New Zealanders have been duped. “Clearly the QMS is not functioning at the high level that we have been led to believe.”

At a local level Hawke’s Bay fisheries are not producing a reasonable return for a day’s recreational fishing effort and nor are they returning any decent commercial yields in terms of jobs and wealth for the region.

As for MPI compliance, locals are most interested in the outcome of an MPI investigation into an alleged local black market operation. In October 2015 MPI reported it had laid 380 charges against Hawke’s Bay Seafoods directors and associated companies.

Baker continues, “While we’re not the only country under-reporting, we’re the only one that trumpets to all who will listen that we’ve had a ‘world-leading’ Quota Management System since 1986. Clearly not, as to be effective there has to be accurate reporting of all quota species.”

The strident denials, then ‘shoot the messenger’ reactions to the research from Nathan Guy, the minister responsible, officials and commercial interests strongly suggests there is more truth to this story than lies.

For environmentally aware Kiwis our truth is fairly simple. What we hear about commercial fishing is thoroughly rinsed through the mesh of well-paid public relations firms. These PR experts carefully massage perceptions through clever messages, conveniently ignoring the abyss between the theoretical spin and numerous eyewitness accounts.

The QMS is nothing short of dysfunctional when there is so little oversight by the Ministry charged with managing our fisheries, and few opportunities for public oversight because there is such a tight rein kept on fisheries data due to confidentiality agreements between Ministry and their commercial fishing industry partners.

“LegaSea agrees with the researchers that we need a robust, critical review of the Quota Management System. We need to understand why the system makes people behave in such a reckless manner”, adds Mr. Firman.

The country and Hawke’s Bay in particular needs productive fisheries.

If New Zealand really does have the best and most envied fisheries management system in the world, there ought to be no objection to a Commission of Inquiry examining all aspects of commercial fisheries management, compliance issues and public reporting. Anything less retains the odour of a cover-up and business as usual – a continuation of the truth being withheld behind a flimsy veil of confidentiality.

• Between 1950-2013 New Zealand reported 15.3 million tonnes of catch to the United Nations. The report estimates another 24.7 million tonnes of catch, mostly unreported commercial catch and discarded fish.

• Prior to the QMS total catch was estimated to be 2.7 times that reported to the UN. Since the introduction of the Quota Management System in 1986, estimated catch dropped to 2.1 times
that reported to the UN.

• Two Ministry investigations, Operation Achilles and Hippocamp, revealed offcials decided not to prosecute commercial fishers filmed dumping some or all of their catch overboard.

• Recreational and customary catch is estimated to be 0.51 million tonnes, or 1.3%. Not reported to the UN.

• Only an estimated 42.5% of industrial catch by New Zealand flagged vessels was reported.

• 42 percent of the industrial catch was caught by foreign-flagged vessels, which dominated the catching of hoki, squid, jack mackerels, barracouta and southern blue whiting – some of the
largest fisheries and most misreported and discarded species.

• MPI seems to have granted lawbreakers immunity from prosecution.

• LegaSea has called for a Commission of Inquiry into the QMS and MPI operations.


LegaSea ( is a public outreach initiative of the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council. The Council has an experienced fisheries management, science, policy and legal team.

LegaSea Hawke’s Bay was launched in 2014 to promote fisheries management practices that will allow for ‘more fish in the water’. LegaSea Hawke’s Bay has been working with other LegaSea advocates to participate and contribute to the joint sector discussions, with the objective of improving the recreational fishing experience in the Hawke’s Bay and surrounding waters.

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