MPI launch independent review into its own handling of illegal discarding of fish

MPI director general Martyn Dunne says the findings of an independent review will be made public.
JASON DORDAY/Stuff.co.nz

MPI director general Martyn Dunne says the findings of an independent review will be made public.

Greenpeace and Opposition politicians are calling for the Ministry of Primary Industries to widen its inquiry of illegal fish discarding and address "systematic problems".

On Thursday MPI launched an independent review into its handling of the illegal discarding of fish, including a decision not to prosecute individuals involved.

The announcement comes days after a "damning' report into the industry and calls from Greenpeace, the Labour Party and the Greens, for MPI to be investigated.

A report released on Monday, in collaboration with Auckland University, provided a reconstructed picture of New Zealand's marine catches dating back to 1950 - it revealed while 15.3 million tonnes of catch was recorded up until 2013, an estimated 24.7 million tonnes had fallen through the cracks.

READ MORE: Greenpeace and Labour call for MPI investigation

Following that report, details emerged of MPI's own investigation into fisheries compliance, dubbed Operation Achilles, which revealed potential illegal discarding of fish by some South Island-based fishing vessels in 2012 and early 2013.

On Thursday MPI director general Martyn Dunne said he had initiated an independent review into "circumstances surrounding Operation Achilles, including the decision not to prosecute individuals associated with the potentially illegal discarding".

"The review will also consider matters relating to a report of a second investigation known as Operation Hippocamp. This investigation also examined matters in relation to potentially illegal fish discarding."

But Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman said there were bigger problems in the fishing industry than what the review will cover and MPI needs to acknowledge "systematic problems".

"The review is covering two reports because they're the ones that were leaked to the media but actually there's other reports, such as threat assessment and risk profiling reports, that sit alongside them that need to be covered as well."

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Norman says without those other reports, the "full picture" won't be realised.

Green Party primary industries spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said it was "astonishing" Operation Achilles was done in 2013 and it's taken MPI this long to "wake up to the problem".

"There's a significant lack of confidence in how MPI handles fisheries."

It was clear MPI had "turned a blind eye" to illegal activity, she said.

"The review is very narrow, and while I'm pleased it's happening, it doesn't go far enough".

Labour's fisheries spokesman Rino Tirikatene said the review was too little too late and looked like a "knee-jerk reaction" after days of denial from MPI.

He said the review was only happening because other organisations had brought the issue to light despite MPI knowing there was a problem years ago.

"It's MPI's modus operandi to deny despite the evidence being so black and white."

Dunne said he placed a "high priority on the ministry having strong credibility with the public when it comes to our role as the regulator of fisheries in New Zealand".

That role extended to "holding people to account when illegal activity takes place," he said.

"Each year, the Ministry prosecutes in excess of 300 cases in the fisheries sector and issues over 3000 infringements."

An independent Queen's Counsel will assist with the review and the terms of reference and name of the reviewer would be released when finalised.

The findings of the review would be made public, Dunne said.

 - Stuff

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