Ministry for Primary Industries Director-General, Martyn Dunne, says he accepts the findings of an independent review conducted by Queen's Counsel Michael Heron into 3 MPI fisheries compliance operations.
In looking at the decision not to prosecute in the investigation known as Operation Achilles, Mr Heron found the decision not to take prosecution action and, in particular, the process leading to it, was flawed.
"The way in which the decision not to prosecute over the apparent dumping of quota fish was made is regrettable. It is also disappointing that the process was characterised by confusion and a lack of adequate documentation and communication," says Mr Dunne.
"However, it is important to note that Mr Heron found the decision not to prosecute was understandable and available to be made in the circumstances. It was a complex matter, approached professionally and in good faith by all involved.
"I have noted and accepted these findings. We have already taken action to address some of the underlying issues and I will ensure that MPI takes further swift action to address outstanding matters identified in the Report.
"I initiated the review to provide transparency into these prosecution decisions and I believe this has been achieved.
"The substantive matters considered by Mr Heron's review date back as far as 2003 and to the then Ministry of Fisheries. The formation of MPI has enabled the establishment of a stronger compliance function and overall fisheries management system."
Mr Heron found decisions made in relation to the other 2 compliance operations, Overdue and Hippocamp, were understandable.
Mr Dunne says a substantial body of work is underway to address the issue of illegal discarding at the centre of 2 of the investigations considered by the review.
"Illegal discarding in the commercial fishery is not a new problem. It has been around since the formation of the quota management system 30 years ago and it is a problem that fisheries management systems are grappling with around the world.
"While there is already much in place to address illegal discarding, we now have a significant work programme underway called The Future of our Fisheries which will modernise and future-proof our fisheries system. It will be a step-change in fisheries management and compliance, including in relation to illegal discarding.
"A key part of this programme is the acceleration of electronic monitoring across the entire commercial fishing fleet.
"This will act as a powerful deterrent to illegal discarding and will significantly strengthen our enforcement capability. The Integrated Electronic Monitoring and Reporting System (IEMRS) will revolutionise the way we manage our fisheries and provide a high level of evidence to support future prosecutions.
"The IEMRS project is planning to install GPS technology and electronic catch reporting on each of the around 1,200 commercial fishing vessels in New Zealand from October 2017 and video cameras are planned to begin to be installed from October 2018.
"GPS technology will mean we know commercial fishers are fishing where they say they are, and not where they aren't meant to be.
"Electronic catch reporting will mean commercial fishers report their catch quickly and accurately.
"Video cameras will mean we will know what fishers say they have caught is in fact correct. This system will mean being out of sight of land will no longer mean being out of sight of MPI.
"The Future of our Fisheries programme will also include a review of some of the operational elements of the Fisheries Act, including elements that might drive discarding behaviour. It will also look at the penalty regime for offences under the Fisheries Act to ensure they are fit for purpose."
Industry to play its part
However, Mr Dunne says it is imperative these efforts are supported by industry if they are to be effective.
"The reality is, some commercial fishers need to lift their game. There are many responsible operators out there but there are also some who have less of a commitment to observing the law.
"Industry has a responsibility to adopt and maintain practices that will ensure the sustainability of our fish stocks for future generations and to safeguard New Zealand's international reputation. They're the ones catching the fish.
"As the Heron Report notes, it is incumbent on commercial fishers to improve their performance and comply with the current law. That message couldn't be clearer."
Key Actions MPI is taking to address matters identified in Heron Report
MPI has a number of actions underway that will address matters arising from the Heron Report. These include:
- A review of Compliance functions with the aim of providing clearer national leadership and accountability for fishery compliance
- Reviewing and updating MPI's prosecution policy and guidelines with input from Crown Law
- Ensuring formalised protocols and agreements are in place for responding to any potentially illegal activity that comes to light as a result of science or research activity
- Developing Standard Operating Procedures for engagement and communications between Compliance Officers, Fisheries Managers and Fisheries Scientists around advising non-fish bycatch events such as Hector's dolphin captures.
Release of supporting materials
An electronic copy of the Heron Report can be found on our website.
You can also find background documents as well as samples of video footage of discarding that was the basis of the Operation Achilles investigation as well as video of the capture of two Hector's dolphins.