New regulations will help revolutionise the way New Zealand’s commercial fisheries are managed, then Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy announced in July.
For its part, the seafood industry signalled its support for improved fisheries outcomes through electronic data transfer and other technology. It recognised enhanced fisheries management, properly applied, would also serve to strengthen the public’s confidence in the industry and the ministry.
That was fine in theory.
The reality has been the ramming through of Integrated Electronic Monitoring and Reporting System (IEMRS) regulations that are simply not fit for purpose.
The hardware and software systems required to deliver the system do not even yet exist.
MPI did not consult on the regulations before promulgation, despite their profound consequences.
Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, representing the smaller fleet primarily fishing territorial waters out to 12 miles whose members are most affected, has called for the suspension of IEMRS and convening of a working group of industry experts to address more than 100 outstanding issues.
MPI has tacitly admitted its IEMRS regulations are not workable in that it has provided interim exemptions from the provisions applied to the deepwater fleet on Oct 1.
The rushed timetable was politically driven. The poorly delivered process has ridden roughshod over fishermen who believe they are being treated like criminals.
Now that the election is out of the way and everyone is wondering what to make of the Labour/NZ First/Greens coalition government and the policies that will unfold, there is no valid reason not to pause and take stock.
Even the environmental and recreational fishing lobbies, which have been consulted on a Future of Our Fisheries (FOOF) review, of which IEMRS is a part, are saying better to take more time and get it right than to rush ahead and risk derailing the process.
The first two stages of digital monitoring – geospatial position reporting (GPR) and catch reporting via new e-logbooks – were brought in on Oct 1 and applied to 36 vessels, trawlers 28 metres and over fishing the deepwater.
The remainder of the fleet, more than 1000 vessels, is required to comply by April 1 next year. Cameras are required to be installed on all vessels from Oct 1 next year.
The difficulty is MPI has adopted a command and control approach, specifying requirements and saying it is up to fishers to meet them.
But even if the legal requirements were realistic, the technology to comply does not yet exist and has not been tested at sea.
It is highly unlikely to have crew trained and the GPR equipment installed on the entire fleet, including small, unpowered boats that operate as tenders to larger vessels, in the next five-and-a-half months. The blanket imposition of cameras on vessels will create even bigger challenges. And for what end?
The Government’s Budget this year included $30.5m over the next four years to support the changes.
Whether this will be clawed back from the industry remains to be seen – MPI’s cost recovery regime is opaque and a review has stalled - but the costs of cameras and other equipment will be foisted on the operators. A request to MPI under the Official Information Act on June 1 seeking a breakdown of the budget bid and any advice to the Minister has not been responded to.
As one frustrated inshore fisher wrote to MPI officials last week: “What’s happening in regards to IEMRS? Only six months to comply and I still have no idea as to what needs to be done. No one I know has had any information or direction from MPI on how we are to comply and still no answers to my questions from previous correspondence. I am actually hoping there will be a change in government and some common sense is injected into the whole procedure. As it stands the whole thing is a mess.”
Well, we have a change of government.
Now for the common sense.