Overfishing and dumping angers industry
Some fishing companies have been abusing the quota system by catching huge quantities of fish in excess of their annual entitlement, say industry sources.
The practice has provoked anger among quota owners who say it damages the value of their fishing rights, but others say there is a deeper malaise in the system that results in vast quantities of fish being dumped at sea as a way of avoiding punishing "deemed value" fees for landing it.
Analysis of fishing data by the Sunday Star-Times shows several companies have caught hundreds of tonnes more than their annual catch entitlement, known as ACE.
Figures for silver warehou, one of the six major deepwater stocks in New Zealand seas, show Christchurch-based company Southern Storm Fishing caught 1133 tonnes in excess of its annual entitlement in the year to September in fishing zone SWA3 off the South Island's east coast. Its excess catch in SWA4, further into the ocean, was 734 tonnes over the same period.
Trans Pacific Fishing, based in Tauranga, caught 1082 tonnes more than its entitlement of silver warehou in the two zones.
Northland Deepwater JV, based in Auckland, caught 300 tonnes in excess of its silver warehou ACE.
Under the quota system, fishers must acquire ACE from quota owners equal to the amount of fish they catch, or pay a fee, known as deemed value, for every kilo of fish landed in excess of ACE.
There is usually a graduated scale, so that small excesses are not penalised the nature of fishing means it is impossible to catch the tonnage exactly equal to ACE.
The system is designed to remove the economic incentive to catch in excess of quota, while still encouraging fishers to land and report everything they catch.
But the level of deemed value penalties, set annually by the Fisheries Ministry, has allowed companies to fish without bothering to buy ACE, angering many senior industry figures.
Eric Barratt, managing director of Sanford, said some companies were abusing the system.
"These people are going out and target fishing [without ACE]. To suggest that it's not illegal is technically correct but morally wrong... All they're doing is just catching fish that belong to us."
Michael Sullivan of Ocean Law, who specialises in fishing industry issues, said there was no moral question to answer.
"It's in the nature of fishing and it's perfectly legal. As long as the fish is being reported, it's an economic issue, not a moral one."
Barratt said that although Sanford had some of the largest catches in the industry, it was able to avoid catching more fish than it was entitled to. "Our deemed value bill is less than $100,000, compared to these other companies that are paying millions of dollars of deemed values."
Southern Storm's silver warehou catch, for example, would have produced a deemed value bill of more than $1.7m, although the company would have avoided paying for ACE at the same time.
But there is another agenda here, say some.
Independent Fisheries, a large Christchurch-based company, significantly overcaught hoki in 2005-06, landing 853 tonnes more than its entitlement. Its fleet manager Steve Bishop said it was a simple matter of being unable to acquire ACE at the end of the season "somebody was going to sell it to us and then changed their mind".
He said there was no argument with the principle that catching more than quota should be made uneconomic, but he said the government was failing to set deemed values correctly.
While setting deemed values too low could encourage deliberate overfishing, setting them too high, as in kingfish and snapper, distorted the market and encouraged dumping of catches at sea.
Anyone catching kingfish accidentally, he said, faced paying $18 a kilo in deemed value penalties a figure well in excess of its economic value. This meant fishers would either seek to buy ACE at any price less than $18/kg, or dump the fish at sea.
High deemed values therefore played into the hands of quota owners, he said.
"Most fishers around this country are discarding fish because it's costing them an arm and a leg to bring it in. It's a waste of millions of dollars to New Zealand and it's a waste of all that management information. This whole issue needs a decent policy review."
Sunday Star Times