30 May 2016

Minister defends fishing industry monitoring

6:10 pm on 30 May 2016

The Minister for Primary Industries is defending putting a company owned by the fishing industry in charge of monitoring fishing boats.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The news comes at the same time as an independent inquiry ordered by the ministry into its own failure to prosecute illegal fish dumping and under-reporting.

In August last year, the Ministry for Primary Industries awarded Trident Systems the contract to monitor 15 vessels fishing for snapper via video cameras and to pass this information on to them.

The company is wholly owned by the fishing industry.

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman said Trident could not be trusted to do the job properly and pointed to allegations that one of its owners, Sanford was itself involved in illegal practices.

"In operation Achilles, boats supplying Sanford, there was evidence of them doing illegal activity in the video, according to the MPI investigators, in operation Hippocamp it was also boats supplying Sanford, there was evidence they were not behaving lawfully and then in operation Overdue it was Sanford itself where evidence was gathered they were not following the rules."

Dr Norman was not surprised MPI awarded the contract to Trident Systems and said the ministry was part of the problem.

"MPI sat on evidence from their own investigators showing widespread illegal activity, it didn't prosecute anybody, in fact it tried to bury the reports, and it was only after those reports were leaked that MPI were forced to admit that it had this video evidence of widespread illegal behaviour."

Minister for Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy rejected claims that by allowing Trident to collect and pass on the footage, the industry was being allowed to monitor itself.

"Trident does the summary, they alert MPI if there's anything they see that's suspicious, MPI gets a summary of that footage, it can't be tampered with, it's securely stored, it's available to MPI on a regular basis and then they can go about their normal role as a regulator and following through on enforcement and if needed, prosecutions."

The leaked MPI report into illegal fish dumping and under-reporting that is now the subject of an inquiry, came about thanks to footage gathered by a company with no links to the industry.

Mr Guy said he expected the footage Trident would provide would be just as revealing.

"It makes no difference who owns the cameras because MPI has access through a contract to all of the footage for enforcement or prosecutions purposes.

"They went through a very open and transparent process, had a couple of tenders as I understand it, they worked through that process and they awarded it to Trident."

Mr Guy said he was keen to fast track installing cameras on all 1400 vessels operating in New Zealand.

He wouldn't be drawn on whether he thought Trident would be a suitable candidate to carry out this surveillance as well, but said he was sure it would be one of the companies involved in future discussions with MPI.

Mr Guy also would not be drawn on how soon he would like to see cameras on all fishing vessels saying only that he would be receiving advice from officials soon.

'No conflict of interest' - Key

Prime Minister John Key says he doesn't see any conflict in the National Party president having a substantial interest in Sanford.

Party president Peter Goodfellow is on the Sanford board.

Mr Key said Mr Goodfellow was immensely careful about managing any conflict of interest.

"I've never had a discussion with him about fisheries matters - if they're raised at the caucus, because he goes to caucus, he always leaves the room.

"He's obviously not a member of Cabinet, so he doesn't get access to that information."

Mr Goodfellow treats the matter very carefully and professionally, Mr Key said.

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