A survey earlier this year, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal in the US, rated this country’s Quota Management System in the top five out of 28 major fishing countries.
That finding was attacked by Otago University zoology professor Liz Slooten, a trenchant critic of the New Zealand fishing industry, and several of her colleagues.
They claimed the survey was biased, refused to accept its findings and said New Zealand was failing miserably in looking after its fish stocks.
Prominent fisheries scientist Ray Hilborn, a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Science at the University of Washington, who oversaw the study, has again hit back.
“Our survey covered very specific elements of the fishery management system and included questions like ‘are stock assessments conducted for these species’?,” he said.
“These are not opinions but matters of fact. Most questions on the survey were of this nature and required a detailed understanding of how specific species were managed.
“Seven people completed the survey. Of these, three have current or past links to environmental NGOs, two currently work for the government or its research laboratory, one is a private consultant who has worked largely for the fishing industry and one is a consultant who has worked largely for Maori fishing interests. There was no significant difference in the evaluation of New Zealand fisheries based on the background of the respondent.”
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research chief scientist Dr Rosemary Hurst said none of the critics had any experience of stock assessment processes.
Prof Hilborn said there had been several previous comparisons of fisheries management systems around the world “and New Zealand always comes out among the top countries”.
Even Dr Daniel Pauly, one of the co-authors of the Slooten critique and a leader on the Sea Around Us project that attempts to reconstruct actual catches over 60 years, has praised the New Zealand system.
In a 2008 paper Pauly and Alder ranked countries’ quality of management of the Exclusive Economic Zone. New Zealand was rated number one.
Dr Pauly has also advised the relative strength of the New Zealand management system should be taken into account when making world-wide comparisons.
“Researchers must use studies that do not represent a grossly biased sample, drawn from the well-managed fisheries of a few countries or regions at the world’s end, like Alaska or New Zealand,” he wrote.
Dirk Zeller, also a co-author of the Slooten paper, was a co-author on a previous paper that again rated New Zealand as one of the best fisheries management countries in the world.
Prof Hilborn is a founder of CFOOD – Collaborative for Food from Our Oceans Data - a network of scientists building and maintaining a range of data bases on the status of fish stocks.
Its data base funders include the US National Science Foundation, the Walton and Packard foundations, the European Commission, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, fishing companies and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
He believes the science literature and media are full of stories on fisheries sustainability that are simply wrong.
He is among a number of scientists, including those from NIWA and the Ministry for Primary Industries, critical of the highly politicised claims led by Auckland University Business School’s Dr Glenn Simmons and Prof Nigel Haworth, who is also president of the Labour Party, that New Zealand’s actual catches were nearly three times those declared to the Food and Agriculture Organisation from 1950.
That report relies heavily on anecdote, based on interviews with 200 anonymous crew members who were interviewed for an earlier study on conditions on foreign crewed vessels, has basic errors, and a methodology and data analysis that are unclear.
The relentlessly negative approach by the anti-commercial fishing lobby, now seeking to undermine the QMS, is at least consistent.
If research shows claims about the impacts of fishing are not borne out, the automatic response is denial.
Thus, when the highly respected Cawthron Institute found in 2106 that the Hector’s dolphin population was a lot healthier than previously thought, being an estimated 12-18,500 and was therefore obviously not being driven to extinction by trawling and set netting, Otago University’s self-appointed marine mammal experts could not accept it.
Instead of saying “hey, this is good news”, the response was the survey was inaccurate.
The industry is in no such denial.
Its attitude is that the QMS has served us well for 31 years but no system is perfect and it can always be improved.
That particularly applies to discards, deemed values, the penalty regime and the setting of Total Allowable Catches, all of which are being pursued with MPI.
We don’t always get it right and we say as much in the Promise campaign that was launched earlier this month, featuring the men and women of the seafood industry throughout the country.
That is why there is no sympathy for those who do transgress, such as Hawke’s Bay seafood director Nino D’Esposito convicted and fined $5000 this week for contravening a notice not to put to sea without an observer. Skipper Robert Harvey received the same penalty and the vessel, Danielle, was forfeited to the Crown.
A determination to meet higher standards and be honest and transparent in committing to long-term guardianship of a precious resource is resonating with the public.
“Admire all those hardy people who make it possible for me and my family to enjoy fresh fish at a reasonable price,” wrote Wilma Tansley on Facebook. “And so good for us. Well done. And the sea is not always as smooth as in that video. Harsh conditions.”
“Awesome Kiwis,” said Jorg Von Lubke in reference to those featured in seafood Promise videos. “Fishermen, loggers and shearers, tuff (sic) as, good on you all.”