19 Dec 2017

'We're a fisheries superpower, managing on a shoestring budget'

8:17 am on 19 December 2017

A shake-up of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) does not go far enough to fix issues in the country's fisheries, say experts.

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Photo: 123rf.com

A new organisation - Fisheries New Zealand - was unveiled last week as a business unit of MPI to oversee the troubled sector, but some say it may end up repeating some of the mistakes made by the old regime.

The new structure will see the old MPI split into business units covering fisheries, forestry and agriculture.

A briefing to cabinet discussed the need to retain staff in compliance and intelligence capable of working across the three units, due to the cost savings it produced.

Glenn Simmons, a research fellow at the University of Auckland Business School, said fisheries investigations were specialised work and those undertaking them should not be coming from forestry or agriculture, as currently happened.

"If you think about the police they have very specialised investigative tasks in either homicide or burglary. You can't just take those people from one really specialised area and plant them in to another and just expect them to pick up the ball and run with it."

He said the lack of specialist knowledge held by the old MPI was behind the low number of prosecutions for things such as fish dumping - just 28 since 2004.

"This is not just me talking, this is coming from the coal face where some have expressed concern that one week to the next they don't know what they're doing, because they could be on a farm, they could be looking at animal welfare, or they could be back on fishing."

Mr Simmons said the fact each business unit within MPI would have its own budget was a positive change.

He hoped Fisheries New Zealand - which will oversee the world's fourth largest economic zone - would now see a larger slice of the pie.

"We're a fisheries superpower, but we're trying to manage on a shoestring budget and that is one of the inherent problems of claiming we have a world leading fisheries management system, when we don't, because when you look at funding alone, it's funding poor."

The Environmental Defence Society was worried Fisheries New Zealand could end up being more of a rebranding exercise than anything that resulted in meaningful change.

Environmental Defence Society policy director, Raewyn Peart.

Environmental Defence Society policy director Raewyn Peart Photo: Supplied.

Policy director Raewyn Peart said significant investment was required into research on how the country's fish stocks were faring.

She has called for an investigation into the entire Quota Management System.

"When these stocks were brought in to the system a lot of those were in 1986. For a surprising number of those, those numbers have never changed. They've never been changed because we've never invested in the research to actually understand whether those limits are in the right place."

New Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash was not available to be interviewed.

In a short statement he said he was continuing to work with officials on the final structure of Fisheries New Zealand and a final decision would be made in the New Year.