Fisherman caught out by inflexible rules

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2013
Riverton fisherman Cyril Lawless
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ

IN THE NET: Riverton fisherman Cyril Lawless has slammed the Ministry for Primary Industries for its unbending rules, which he says cost him thousands of dollars.

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A Riverton fisherman is crying foul after saying he was effectively fined $6500 for making a mistake in his paperwork and then given just two weeks to pay it.

Cyril Lawless, who owns a 12-metre steel fishing boat and has been fishing for 38 years, has slammed the Ministry for Primary Industries for its unbending rules, which he says had the potential to put him out of business.

Lawless said he inadvertently neglected to send one of his landing dockets to the ministry for his September 2012 catch, meaning he did not declare 1900kg of flat-fish he caught.

Eight months later, the ministry contacted him to tell him his yearly tally to October was incorrect and he had caught 1900kg more of flat-fish than his tally had allowed him to.

He was required to pay the government value of the fish - $6500.

Lawless said he found a Bluff fishing company prepared to lease him the quota to cover his overcatch but the ministry refused to allow him to lease the quota because the season's quota register had closed.

He accepted he made a mistake, but believed the ministry's rules were harsh.

"I thought it was a bit rough to get a $6500 fine for making a simple mistake and missing one landing docket . . . that's a lot of money for a small-scale trawlerman."

His battle with bureaucracy didn't end there.

He asked FishServe, which does the paperwork for the ministry, if he could pay the money off over several months, but he was told it had to be paid by the end of the month, just two weeks away.

If he did not pay, his fishing permit would be suspended until he did. "I asked how I could pay the bill if I couldn't go fishing and they said it didn't concern them. They gave me a fortnight to pay it or I would have been put out of business. That's what it came down to."

He was forced to get an extension of his overdraft to cover the bill, he said.

He questioned not being allowed to pay off the money when he had made a genuine mistake.

"If I had been consistently landing flats [flat-fish] without quota, fair enough, but as a one-off thing I think there needs to be a bit of leniency. The government makes its share of mistakes and rarely has to account for them."

FishServe chief executive Lesley Campbell said its role was to administer the ministry's policies. But she believed Lawless had some valid points and urged him to contact her.

FishServe, which is owned by the fishing industry, was happy to talk to the ministry about its policy, she said.

The ministry's fisheries management acting director, Jeremy Helson, said the quota management system relied on accurate and timely reporting and the onus was on commercial fishermen to correctly report their catch.

There was room for some flexibility, particularly if the fisherman realised he had misreported his catch within the current fishing year and did something about it but, in this instance, the misreporting was found by an officer checking for non-compliance.

Lawless could have been commercial fishing for free, Helson said.

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- The Southland Times

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