'made legal' by fines system
This article was originally published in The Dominion Post on
Monday, 18th June 2007
Deliberate overfishing by commercial fishermen for more than a decade
has been made legal by ineffective regulations, the industry says.
The fishing industry has acknowledged some of its members intentionally
abuse regulations to catch more fish than they should, absorbing
penalty payments into the extra profits.
For the past 12 years snapper fishermen on the west coast and lower
east coast of the North Island have caught nearly 2000 tonnes more
fish than they were supposed to, a bounty worth about $16 million
in today's export market, while Ministry of Fisheries charges for
overfishing total only $7 million for the same area.
In the SNA2 fishery area, between Wellington and the East Cape,
total reported catch had been up to 55 per cent higher than allowed
by the Ministry of Fisheries in some years.
"It's certainly not accidental," Seafood Industry Council
chief executive Owen Symmans said.
The ministry's "deemed value" system made overfishing
legal, with a penalty payment, to encourage fishermen to report
unintentional excess catch and bycatch instead of dumping it.
But the penalties were too low to discourage targeted overfishing
of valuable species, worth more than the penalty cost.
The export price for snapper was up to $9 a kilo, while the "deemed
value" was as low as $1.68 a kilo in some fisheries.
New deemed values are due to be consulted on next week, with penalties
up to 300 per cent higher.
Mr Symmans said last year's overall snapper catch exceeded quota
by about 9 per cent.
"I would consider, in a fishery like that, that is certainly
high. People are specifically targeting it because it is commercially
viable for them to do so," he said.
"Unfortunately it is legal, but the industry does not condone
it at all."
Suggestions that the sheer volume of over-quota catch indicated
large fishing companies were involved in deliberate overfishing
were speculative, Mr Symmans said.
"It could be a whole range of people. I don't know who has
Recreational fishing lobby group Option4 spokesman Paul Barnes said
the rampant "wild west" fishing had been ignored by the
Government, while west coast recreational catch limits for snapper
had been nearly halved because there were fears that the snapper
fishery was in trouble.
Mr Barnes said the Ministry of Fisheries had described the levels
of fishing as "chronic deeming", showing they clearly
knew it was deliberate.
"You've got quotas that are not quotas, they just catch what
they want," he said.
New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council spokesman Richard Baker said
overfishing on the west coast had robbed a generation of New Zealanders
of experiencing a fully healthy fishery.
"If the chronic abuse of the deemed value system continues
to go unchecked they are not likely to ever see a healthy, well
managed fishery," he said.
Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton and the industry have been talking
about a fix for the issue for two years, and that the problem had
been "put on the back burner" by previous fisheries ministers.
Minstry manager of deep water fisheries Stefan Leslie said new deemed
values would be taken to the industry for consultation next week.
The new deemed values would apply to about 50 fishery areas, including
three snapper fishery areas which would increase to $8 a kilo from
levels as low as $2.
He said extreme overfishing would be hit with differential penalties
up to a maximum of $16 a kilo.
"If these don't do the job we'll be proposing other changes,"
Mr Leslie said.
The problem was making the penalty level right, so that it did not
prompt illegal dumping of fish to avoid the cost.
"You want a deemed value system that so disincentivises overfishing
so that people don't do it. It's a very fine line," Mr Anderton
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