August 26

Imagine if cameras were placed in every home in the country.

 They would undoubtedly capture some bad behaviours but they would not solve underlying problems.

 That needs a range of measures to address the causes.

 Putting cameras on boats to address discarding of non-target or undersized fish will not be an instant fix either. As a society we understand that it is far better to address the causes of difficult social problems than to simply monitor those undesirable outcomes; so too in fisheries. 

 Like every other fishing country, New Zealand is grappling with the challenge of managing discards, harvested fish and aquatic life that is returned to the sea.

 Visiting US academic Anastasia Telesetsky, attached to the Ministry for Primary Industries under a New Zealand Government fellowship in honour of eminent astrophysicist Sir Ian Axford, has ventured into these vexatious waters.

 She presented a research paper in Wellington this week titled: Fishing for the Future: Addressing Fisheries Discards and Increasing Export Value for New Zealand’s Sustainable Fisheries, that is a useful addition to a complex debate.

  “The discarding of fish is a major threat to the New Zealand fishing industry because of its potential to undermine the integrity of the quota management system if the discarding is not reported and factored into the cap set by the total allowable catch,”  Telesetsky wrote. She found that “overall, the trend of reducing actual numbers of discards from the New Zealand industry has been positive”.

   Her report said that in the deepwater fisheries, where the bulk of the total catch is made, the percentage of discards is “quite low”.

  “ The bycatch rate and discard rate for deepwater QMS species between 2008 and 2013 has been further reduced with vessels catching approximately 9.3 percent QMS bycatch but only discarding out of the total catch 1.1 percent of QMS species.”

  She attributed this marked decline to “a combination of better fisheries management plans, observer coverage and a change in the deepwater fishing culture.

  “This general trend is encouraging as reflected in a 2016 report released by MPI which found that the majority of stocks with known status were not overfished.”

  Telesetsky noted discard practices did vary among fisheries and it was more of an issue in the inshore fishery.

  She said Auckland University’s catch reconstruction report for 1950-2010 (Simmons) concluded the actual catch might be 2.7 times that recorded “is disputed by international fisheries scientists, MPI fisheries managers and MPI fisheries scientists”.

   Discarding and dumping are negative practices in the public mind but what is not understood is that all undersized quota species are required by law to be returned to the sea. By doing so, fishermen are observing the law, not breaking it.

  Those discards are factored into the Total Allowable Commercial Catch, they are not additional to it.

  What is illegal is discarding QMS species above any minimum legal size, a practice not condoned by the industry.

  The various incentives for this illegal discarding need to be addressed.

  Anastasia Telesetsky’s conclusion is that “to support both the objective of sustainable fisheries and the continuation of a commercial fishery in New Zealand, MPI must design a discard policy that reflects both the current realities of commercial fishing and the aspiration that all fish caught in New Zealand waters become part of an economic value chain.

  “Before electronic monitoring is implemented, MPI must make important decisions about how it intends to handle future discard incidents. Will New Zealand attempt to implement a full discard ban such as that in the European Union and risk potential bankruptcy of some portions of the fishing industry which cannot afford to land fish with low or no value. Or will New Zealand recognise some threshold of legal operational discarding that will not have cumulative impacts on marine resources? 

  “For the electronic monitoring system to be a success in enhancing data collection for fisheries management, MPI will need some degree of credible buy-in from the fishing community. This social policy aspect of implementing new technology should not be ignored in the rush to implement.

  “Since the introduction of the QMS, New Zealand’s fisheries management system has improved the abundance of many commercial stocks. Addressing the remaining data gaps associated with existing discard practices will further strengthen the fisheries management system.”

   There is, of course, another major gap in fisheries management, which is not addressed in the Telesetsky paper, and that is compulsory catch reporting in the recreational sector where fishing effort is increasing and discarding and high grading is common.

- Tim Pankhurst