by Steffan Browning
The Ministry of Primary Industries and our commercial fishing industry, which is largely reliant on the honesty of its fishers, are known for gilding the lily when it comes to sustainability of fisheries.
The commentary we are seeing around the latest UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) report on the State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture report (SOFIA 2012) is no exception.
While the report signified that we have a global problem - 87% of the world’s fisheries are currently overexploited, and we depend on fish to feed ourselves in no small way - NZ seemed to come out as a rather shining example of sustainable fisheries management. However, we do not agree!
SOFIA 2012 takes its figures from the Ministry of Primary Industries’ 2011 Stock Status report in which theoretically 69% of our fish stocks have been assessed as ‘at or above’ their management target.
Considering the dismal state of the world’s fisheries, this figure sounds pretty good, until you look at what it represents.
We have 636 fish stocks in our Quota Management System. However only 123 have been assessed against their management targets – and it is from these that the “69%” figure is drawn, celebrated and promoted by the fishing industry not only here it seems, but worldwide. These 123 stocks represent only a third of our 350 commercial stocks and a fifth of all stocks for which we set quotas in New Zealand – and the 123 didn’t all meet their management targets.
The industry-stated “69%” of stocks that we know to be at or above their Ministry-designed management targets, represent just 83 stocks, a mere 13% of the total 636 of known fish stocks, and only 24% of commercial stocks. That is the true confidence level in the sustainability of our fisheries. By biomass, these 83 stocks represent some 66% of commercially landed fish. As for the rest? Either its stock has not met its management target, or we are seriously data deficient.
It is very concerning that 34% of all commercially landed fish in New Zealand is not being assessed for sustainability.
Why is the level of assessment against basic sustainability targets so low? MPI state on their website that it is very difficult to do. They managed to assess 4 new stocks against their targets in one year (2011) – with 513 still to go. At this rate, it would take 128 years for MPI to assess every stock for sustainability.
This is far too long to wait for food security, and many species are likely to be non-existant by the time meaningful assessment may have occured.
MPI clearly do not have the resources to do these assessments, so how might they ensure that we are fishing sustainably?
With fisheries management for sustainability being outsourced in the 2012 budget, industry is the apparent answer.
The fishing industry has an appalling record of reporting and collective integrity around sustainability, so strong government measures are needed. Increasing independent monitoring and ensuring complete species reporting, and fearlessly adjusting quota and catch limits must occur if Aotearoa New Zealand’s fisheries are to recover and be truly sustainable. This must go hand in glove with improved ecological research and habitat protection measures.
Good for the fishes and good for the planet.