Opinion: Dolphin deaths, cover-ups - MPI needs to come clean

Opinion: Dolphin deaths, cover-ups - MPI needs to come clean

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) needs to be straight up with the public about waste issues in the commercial fishing sector.

MPI has "compelling" video footage of dumping that it believes will be damaging for New Zealand’s international brand, according to one of their own investigators. But it hasn’t been released to the public.

We know this because the MPI investigator raised concerns about the video in a 2013 report. The same investigator also talked about how bad it would be if this material was released publicly. This report has also not been released.

Related: MPI implicated in new fisheries information

The report was written as part of a trial of CCTV cameras on fishing vessels in the South Island called Operation Achilles.

The Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, and his department have been praising this big brother technology as the answer to stopping illegal behaviour and improving the accountability of the commercial sector.

But at the same time, it's very clear they never wanted the opinions of this investigator to see the light of day. They've never said publicly before now that during this CCTV trial they caught an operator catching two Hector’s dolphins in their nets. They never mentioned that massive dumping of quota species was witnessed.

In my opinion, it sounds like MPI has been selective with the information it releases publicly. You could go a step further and say this is a deliberate cover-up.

MPI denies this and says it is transparent with information it has on discards and waste, and that its observer programme ensures operators play by the rules and its data is robust.

But do all vessels have observers? No.

Alarmingly, the investigator in the 2013 report suggests MPI had some sort of deal with commercial operators during this camera trial that they would be immune from prosecution if they allowed MPI to put their observers on-board boats.

MPI says no such deal exists. Why then would this senior investigator insinuate that there was such an agreement?

This information has only come to light as a result of a lot of digging by researchers at Auckland University. They've released research in collaboration with Oxford University and the University of British Colombia which has estimated the actual catch in New Zealand is 2.7 times greater than official statistics.

Not surprisingly, MPI has done all it can to discredit this information as well.

It's time MPI released the full report and the so-called "compelling" video of offending so the public can draw their own conclusions.

10.16 "There are many reasons why I believe that positive action must be taken in regards to the findings of this report. It is more than sustainability. It is more than the fact that we are relying on misleading and incorrect data to sustain our fisheries. The most pressing reason for urgent action is that we have compelling visual evidence of serious offending recorded on a media that could become available (for whatever reason) to outside persons and organisations. Some of these people and organizations could have strong vested interests in this information and make this material quickly available to the public via internet related media i.e. 'YouTube' etc."

10.17 "The resulting damage that could be caused not just to MPI but to the New Zealand fishing industry and economy as a whole could be extensive. The site 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. These images could quickly negate the 'green sustainable' image that we as a country portray. This combined with the fact that we have known about these dumping/discarding issues for many years and would appear to have done little to combat it would be very difficult to explain and unpleasant at best."

10.18 "A worst case scenario could see a large international company e.g. 'McDonalds', refusing to buy our 'non-green image' fish or having imports cancelled as a result of these pressures. Remember too that this is only regarding the dumping/unsustainably issue there is also the matter regarding the deliberate non reporting of hectors dolphins that could have a similar if not more dramatic flow on negative effect."

10.20 "As I understand it the Ministry has previously ignored offending (dumping) that has been observed and recorded by Ministry of Fishery Observers because an assurance had been given to the vessels concerned prior to the observers boarding the vessel that all such offending that was seen would be disregarded and no prosecution action taken. It is understood that this agreement was reached as a condition in order to allow the Observers on board the vessel in the first instance."