A review of decisions by fisheries authorities not to prosecute in cases where breaches were found on video has been released. Phil Taylor backgrounds events leading to the inquiry.

The independent review into the decision not to prosecute breaches of the Fisheries Act was commissioned by the Ministry of Primary Industries Director-General Martyn Dunne during a month in which questions were asked about its effectiveness as a fisheries watchdog.

During May, an international study estimated less than half of the commercial catch is reported, leaked reports by MPI investigators indicated a high proportion of fish is dumped, and an industry-owned company was appointed to run a video surveillance operation of the industry.

May 16. New Zealand's catch was estimated to be 2.7 times higher than reported. The study, Sea Around Us, by British Columbia University in collaboration with Oxford and Auckland universities, estimated that only 42.2 per cent of fish caught by New Zealand commercial vessels was reported for the period from 1950 to 2010.

The study painted a picture of systematic dumping and institutionally embedded misreporting. Industry body Seafood New Zealand and the ministry criticised the report as exaggerated and unscientific.


In his report commissioned by MPI and released today, Michael Heron, QC, said that issues raised in the Sea Around Us study have long been recognised by the Government and industry. "The fisheries management system is under review at present and provides an opportunity to examine this."

Heron also called on those involved in commercial fishing to improve their performance and comply with the law.

May 18. Leaked MPI reports surfaced that revealed the ministry's own investigators believed between 20 and 100 per cent of some quota fish was being discarded in every haul.

The reports were of three operations - Achilles, Hippocamp, and Overdue - where video footage provided evidence of suspected breaches of fisheries law. The cameras were on boats fishing off the South Island in a pilot programme endorsed by fishing companies Sanford and Talley's to monitor the inadvertent capture of hector dolphins.

Five of the six vessels in Operation Achilles "openly discarded substantial quantities of quota fish" or failed to report catch as required, the investigator said in his report.

"Despite difficulties that may arise with future planned monitoring trials and assurances that may have been given to fishers re immunity, I believe that the reasons to prosecute these vessels far outweigh the reasons not to prosecute."

In response, MPI noted Achilles' was a preliminary report and deputy director-general Scott Gallacher and Minister Nathan Guy said it had legal advice not to prosecute.

May 24. MPI Director General Martin Dunne appointed Michael Heron, QC, to review the decision not to prosecute in relation to the three operations in which video footage supported suspected breaches of the Fishing Act.

May 29. MPI appointed fishing industry-owned Trident Systems to install cameras on 15 vessels operating in Snapper 1, the country's most important fishery. The appointment of Trident in what is a trial for planned electronic monitoring across the whole commercial fleet was criticised by Greenpeace as "like the fox guarding the hen house".

Guy said the footage would be tamper-proof and could be used as evidence for prosecutions. But an unsuccessful bidder, Canadian monitoring company Archipelago Marine Research, said electronic monitoring was "not fully tamper-evident, tamper-proof or fully automated" and such a conflict of interest wouldn't be acceptable in the United States, Canada or Australia.

Failure to prosecute 'flawed'