In a landmark study by highly-respected New Zealand and international researchers, New Zealand’s fishery catch has been estimated at 2.7 times more than officially reported.
The total amount of marine fish caught in New Zealand waters between 1950 and 2010 is 2.7 times more than official statistics suggest, according to the best estimate to date.
Unreported commercial catch and discarded fish account for most of the difference. Fish with little or no perceived economic value are routinely dumped at sea and not reported, as is by-catch (fish caught along with the target species – a common and unavoidable occurrence) if unmarketable, under the minimum legal size, or the fisher has no quota.
An extended estimate for 1950-2013 reveals 24.7 million tonnes of fish went unreported, compared to the 15.3 million tonnes reported.
The study is part of a wider New Zealand research project aimed at informing seafood industry efforts to become as economically and environmentally sustainable as possible.
“To maintain sustainable fisheries and seafood businesses themselves, you need to know how much fish is being caught,” said lead researcher Dr Glenn Simmons from the New Zealand Asia Institute at the University of Auckland Business School.
“There was already strong evidence that we didn’t know this, because the official statistics are incomplete. Unreported catches and dumping not only undermine the sustainability of fisheries, but result in suboptimal use of fishery resources and economic waste of valuable protein,” he said.
The study is part of an international collaboration between 400 researchers which sought to fill the gaps left by official catch data. This landmark, 15-year ‘Sea Around Us’ project is run out of the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia.
The global results were published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications in January. The New Zealand results have now been published by the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.
The catch statistics supplied by New Zealand and other countries to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) do not include illegal or otherwise unreported commercial catches and discards. They also leave out or substantially under-reported fish taken by recreational and customary fishers.
The New Zealand researchers drew on an extensive body of documentation, including: stock-assessment reports; peer-reviewed literature; unpublished reports and information obtained under the Official Information Act; as well as 308 confidential interviews with industry experts and personnel with first-hand knowledge of fishing and reporting practices. They combined this data with official catch data to statistically ‘reconstruct’ a more comprehensive, robust catch estimate. The same method was used throughout the global series of studies.
The main New Zealand findings were:
“A striking finding was the extent of misreporting to avoid deemed-value penalties – at sea and on land,” said Dr Simmons. “This highlights a weakness of the QMS, which relies on full and accurate reporting, yet, in practice, incentivises misreporting. Fisheries management and stock-assessment officials must spend more time talking and listening to the fishers themselves, along with observers and compliance officers.”
The evidence shows the QMS is in need of a robust critical review, along with consideration of alternatives to ensure the latest information, processes and technology are being utilized, he said.
‘Improving the transparency and reliability of fisheries data reporting is essential,’ the researchers conclude in the report.
‘The future sustainability and certification of fisheries will depend on how the government addresses the under-reporting problems, which have long been a cause of concern.’ Dr Glenn Simmons, of the New Zealand Asian Institute at the University of Auckland Business School, led a team of researchers that collaborated with Professor Pauly on the New Zealand research. Their report on New Zealand’s ‘reconstructed’ catch is published on the Sea Around Us website (www.seaaroundus.org) at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia. The full list of authors is: Glenn Simmons*, Graeme Bremner, Hugh Whittaker, Philip Clarke, Lydia Teh, Kyrstn Zylich, Dirk Zeller, Daniel Pauly, Christina Stringer*, Barry Torkington, and Nigel Haworth* (* from the University of Auckland Business School)
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