Power Of Transparency

It’s been a tough week for news related to commercial, and it hasn’t felt like a fair one for those who are across the facts related to two stories – sea lion mortality limits and the uptick in reporting of bycatch following the introduction of cameras. That’s ok – we have the full story for you here.

On Monday, Minister for Oceans and Fisheries Hon Shane Jones made the decision to remove the fishing-related mortality limit (FRML) for the Auckland Island Squid (SQU6T) Fishery.

This is a decision Seafood NZ advocated for. Why? because over two decades we have invested a tonne of money, time and effort into keeping the Auckland Island Sea Lion population safe, as well as helping to collect the necessary data to assist with population monitoring.

Observer coverage in SQU6T has been above 90% for the past five years and an average of over 85% for the past 10 years.

These efforts have enabled us to demonstrate that fishing is having almost no effect on the sea lion population. That’s worth repeating, because recent media reports might make you think otherwise – since approximately 2003, population modelling has suggested that fishing-relating mortality is not having a detrimental effect on the sea lion population.

We use Sea Lion Exclusion Devices (SLEDs), that allow animals to escape from the trawl net. They include a grid within the net that guides sea lions to an escape hole in the roof of the net. They have been shown to be effective and not cause injury to sealions, they are also now mandatory. The fleet has seen an average of only 4.2 estimated mortalities over the last five fishing years. With the level so low, an FRML was unnecessary bureaucracy.

We are pleased with the Minister’s decision but let’s be clear, this does not mean we’re now relaxing our efforts to avoid interactions with sea lions, we want to see these taonga species flourish. That’s why we’ve helped with the fight against disease and the frustrating issue of pups getting stranded in mud holes, which sounds trivial but can be fatal.

Fisheries New Zealand plans to keep the same level of observer coverage, currently the minimum observer coverage for this fishery is 70 percent, which keeps intact our ability to monitor our interaction rate with sea lions in this fishery. We actually want higher observer coverage for this fishery, because we want the transparency this brings.

And the topic of transparency brings us to the second issue in the news this week – cameras on fishing boats.

On Thursday, MPI publicly shared some data which shows a substantial increase in fisher reporting of discarded catch and protected species interactions since cameras came in. For example, the volume of fish discards reported is up by 30%. There has been a 3.7 times increase in the reports of albatross interactions.

The first and obvious thought is why are cameras driving this change?

There may be some year-on-year fluctuations to consider here but what we think cameras are doing is causing all fishers to be more vigilant about their numbers. This is a good thing.

Humans are fallible. They make mistakes. A few do the wrong thing sometimes. If cameras encourage more attention and accuracy, that’s good.

The other positive here is that the mathematical modelling used to manage our fisheries always assumed self-reported catch was not as reliable as data from government observers. These models are used to scale up data from MPI Observers so that it’s representative of the full fishing fleet and is used for management responses. Our fisheries are being accurately managed to ensure sustainability despite an increase in fisher-reported data.

The new data from cameras gives us a fresh start – a new baseline. Let’s stay vigilant from here. Misreporting of all kinds causes a loss of trust, whether we do it or the media does it, and we don’t want it to be us.

/Public Release. View in full here.