Questions have been raised about a study saying more than half of the fish caught in New Zealand are not being officially recorded but even if a fraction of what the study claims is correct then it raises serious concerns.
The study estimates the quantity of fish dumped once the quota had been filled, the unreported "bycatch"of other species and under-reported recreational fishing, multiplied New Zealand's total catch by 2.7 times the official tallies
The research led by the Auckland University business school concludes the quota management system undermines sustainable fisheries management by inadvertently incentivising misreporting and fish dumping. The paper quotes a Ministry for Primary Industries investigation in 2013 that said: "The sight of large, perfectly good fish being systematically discarded in such large quantities could have a huge negative effect, as it could easily stir up an emotive backlash from not only the New Zealand public, but from international quarters as well."
However, the ministry's director of fisheries management, Dave Turner, is critical of the findings of the latest study, saying it fails because the measure of sustainability is abundance - that is, the amount of fish in the sea - not extraction, he says.
He says the ministry has decades of peer-reviewed science that shows steadily increasing levels of abundance. If fish stock levels are increasing under the system then that is the most important thing. It's equally true that reports of large quantities of perfectly good fish being dumped is going to spark controversy. There certainly was outrage when details emerged several years ago of 5 tonnes of dead snapper being dumped to rot in the ocean.
I was shocked by the scale of it and deeply concerned when it later emerged that a commercial fisherman may have dumped them rather than bring them back to port and face penalties for exceeding his quota.
Hopefully, the questions raised by the report will prompt a review of how the issue of fish dumping can be addressed to end this waste.