Auckland University prides itself on its top ranking amongst the country’s tertiary institutions.   It also wins hands down in the hypocrisy stakes.

The university continues to dodge seafood industry requests under the Official Information Act for data detail on its deeply flawed catch reconstruction report in the New Zealand fishery over 61 years to 2011.

The report headed by Auckland University Business School’s Dr Glenn Simmons and Prof Nigel Haworth, who is also Labour Party president, has been dismissed as unreliable by MPI, NIWA and international fisheries scientists.

But its authors are undeterred and continue to use their highly politicised report as a cudgel against the seafood industry and the Quota Management System that underpins it.

They claim actual catches since 1950 were nearly three times those reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The only way the conclusions could have been arrived at was to make a guess.

The report relies on anecdotes masquerading as facts and would not meet rigorous scientific peer review, given science is driven by data and not opinion.

The sample is hopelessly biased. It includes interviews with 300 people, none of whom are named, and 200 of whom were crews on foreign chartered vessels complaining about their treatment.  

Yet the report has been uncritically covered by media.

A notable exception is National Business Review editor-in-chief Nevil Gibson who this week warned support for science is in danger of being hijacked by those with political motives.

He said campaigns such as those against fossil fuels question the forces of industrialisation and globalisation that underpin modern civilisation.

“The fishing industry is another that says a lot of claims about overfishing and dumping are exaggerated by Greenpeace, when in fact scientists are working hard to ensure fisheries remain bountiful,” he said.

The seafood sector has been frustrated in its attempts to deconstruct the Simmons report given its opaque methodology. The university has rebuffed a request to refer the matter to its ethics committee.

The subversion of the OIA by a taxpayer funded institution has been referred to the Ombudsman by law firm Chapman Tripp acting on behalf of SNZ and a ruling is due.

The university’s secretive stance was also attacked earlier this month by Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis on a separate matter.

He was critical of its decision to charge media for emails relating to a bid by Waikato University to launch the country’s third medical school, rivalling those at Otago and Auckland.

Auckland University also refused to release additional material relating to the proposal.

Universities are expected to act as the critic and conscience of society and must be open to public scrutiny, Prof Geddis said.

“It appears Auckland University is not applying the Ombudsman’s guidelines on OIA matters correctly,” he said.

At the same time Simmons and his colleagues are critical of MPI for not releasing “internal reports relevant to our ongoing research” that relate to alleged fish dumping and have taken their own complaint to the Ombudsman.

Transparency is the only way we can get to grips “with the problems facing the fishing industry”, they said.

The words pot and kettle spring to mind.

Here are some questions for Simmons et al to ponder in their quest for transparency.

How come a catch of some 7000 tonnes of orange roughy was attributed to recreational fishers when there has never been any such fishery?

How could there have been an industrial catch of 112,000 tonnes of orange roughy from 1950 to 1978 before there was a known, targeted roughy fishery in New Zealand waters?

Why is there no estimate of uncertainty around their catch reconstructions?

How come their findings are so at odds with NIWA’s publicly available reports showing non-reported catches in New Zealand’s deep water fisheries, where the bulk of fish are caught, at just 4 percent since 2002?

Why are the detailed methods and data used to create the estimated catch still being withheld?

How come the New Zealand study is so out of kilter with the wider University of British Columbia Sea Around Us project that attempts to quantify the world’s actual catches, rather than those reported to the FAO?

A request was also made by Seafood NZ to Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, to review the Simmons report given its potential to damage a key export industry.

Sir Peter responded it was not his place to take on such roles.

But he did say: “This indeed is a complex analysis with much potential for bias and interpretation and I understand the origin of your concerns.”

Prof Matthew Dunn, former Victoria University chair in fisheries science, was among those to query the report’s credibility.

“If it was accurate, there could be more than twice as many fish in the sea as previously thought,” he said.

“That means sustainable catches and catch quotas could also be higher if that was true.

“The QMS and the deemed value system is not perfect but it doesn’t detract from the fact that a privatised fishery system like the QMS is still considered to be amongst the best, if not the best, way of managing fisheries resources.

“We want our fisheries management and industry to be looking forward, not worrying about what happened 50 years ago.”