Dead fish' likely to be dumped catch'

An investigation is under way after about 200 dead fish were discovered floating belly-up in Tasman Bay.

Ministry for Primary Industries fisheries officers are praising a recreational fisherman who reported an incident of suspected commercial fish dumping near Pepin Island, north of Nelson last weekend.

A flurry of seabird activity alerted the fisherman to the dead fish, mostly small gurnard and tarakihi, which he reported to local fisheries officers.

The ministry's Nelson-Marlborough district compliance manager, Ian Bright, said it was likely to be a case of fish dumping.

"Given the number and uniform size of fish that were found floating, we believe it is probable that they had come from a commercial fishing vessel, and three such vessels were noted in the vicinity at the time," Mr Bright said.

The man who reported the find took photographs of the dead fish and fishing vessels in the area, but the boats were too far away to be accurately identified. The ministry would not release the images while the investigation was underway.

There is no minimum legal size for commercially caught gurnard, and it was not unknown for small gurnard to be discarded by commercial fishing boats because they were of little economic value once caught, Mr Bright said.

The unlawful discarding or dumping of unreported fish was considered serious offending by fisheries officers, because it undermined the sustainable quota management system designed to protect fish stocks, Nelson-Marlborough fisheries office team leader Anthony Little said.

Any commercial operator caught illegally dumping fish could face fines of up to $250,000, could lose their fishing quota, and could have boats, vehicles, and other gear forfeited, Mr Little said.

Mr Bright said fisheries officers were always grateful when members of the public reported incidents such as this.

"MPI relies to a large degree on information from the public, particularly recreational fishers, to help us prosecute individuals for this type of offending.

"We encourage anyone who comes across large amounts of floating fish to . . . assist us in investigating cases of suspected fish dumping."