NZ-led bid to save important fishery fails

An international attempt led by New Zealand to save one of the world's more vulnerable but important fish stocks has largely failed with key issues put off until next year.

The failure in the week-long Auckland meeting to stop the plunder of Chilean jack mackerel (trachurus murphyi) in international waters between Chile and New Zealand has implications for food security in South America, and threatens other fish stocks, including tuna.

Existing measures to control overfishing have been ignored by some nations.

At the meeting of the newly created South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO), South Korea admitted that last year one of its ships, the 26-year-old trawler Kwangja Ho, overfished its quota by 68 per cent.

Korea's Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries suspended the vessel's licence for 30 days and issued a "correctional fine" of KWR1 million (NZ$1000).

The excess 2219 tonnes of mackerel it caught would have been worth around NZ$1.7m.

At the meeting chaired by Wellington international lawyer Bill Mansfield, SPRFMO tried to set strong catch limits before the stock collapses.

An international free-for-all for the fish is underway with fleets of boats from South American countries, Russia, China, Korea, the European Union, the Faroe Islands and Vanuatu and the Cook Islands seeking the mackerel.

World Wildlife Fund regional fishery officer Mauricio Galvez said the fishery was still at risk because the meeting failed to set adequate catch limits to allow it to recover and did nothing about bottom fishing on the high seas.

"The permissive catch limits on the catch and fishing effort of the once enormous stock of jack mackerel in the South Eastern Pacific disappointed those with environmental concerns," Galvez said. 

The European Union proposed a catch limit of 300,000 tonnes, but fishing industry interests got it lifted to 438,000 tonnes.

They allowed a total of 360,000 tonnes to be taken in the high seas and in the Chilean Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), with the rest to be taken in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian EEZs.

A scientific report presented at the meeting said jack mackerel stock levels were between 8 and 17 per cent of estimated un-fished levels.

Last year the New York Times revealed the plunder had sent the stock on the way to becoming "one of the most depleted major fish stocks" in the world.

It said aggressive fishing had decimated jack mackerel stocks in the past two decades - from 30 million tonnes to less than three million.

The Chilean stock - which was found off New Zealand's east coast until recently - is separate from the New Zealand jack mackerel stock. New Zealand's stock may now be one of the world's largest nearly untouched fishery.

Auckland Now