Fishing industry seeks to hide dead dolphins, penguins, sea lions from public scrutiny

Forest & Bird has released images of dead dolphins, NZ sea lions, and yellow-eyed penguins along with a letter from key leaders in the fishing industry to the Ministry of Primary Industries seeking to prevent the public from ever seeing similar images of by-kill and fish discarding.

“These are the images the fishing industry doesn’t want you to see," says Forest & Bird CE Kevin Hague.

Dropbox link to photos of fisheries bykill and industry letter to MPI released through the Official Information Act.

On 4 July 2017, a range of commercial fishing organisations wrote to the Ministry of Primary Industries seeking a change to the Fisheries Act to prevent the public release of information collected by MPI about fisheries activities.

The letter, sent by George Clement of the Deepwater Group; Dr Jeremy Helson from Fisheries Inshore New Zealand; Storm Stanley from the Paua Industry Council, Tim Pankhurst from Seafood New Zealand and Daryl Sykes from the New Zealand Rock Lobster Industry Council suggested that, “the Fisheries Act be amended to clarify the purposes for which the [electronic monitoring] information (and other information on commercial fishing activities) will be obtained by MPI and to expressly provide for the OIA to not apply to this information.”

The letter also adds that the release of footage of what is euphemistically described as “incidental interactions with seabirds, legitimate fish discards, treatment of unintended bycatch” could make “New Zealand’s international reputation as a reputable source of quality, sustainably-produced seafood could be significantly impaired.”

“In plain English, what they are saying is catching endangered penguins, dumping entire hauls of fish overboard and killing Hector's dolphins looks really bad on TV.  Well, the solution is to stop doing it, not to hide the evidence. It’s hard to think of a more credibility damaging activity than trying to change the law to so the rest of us can’t see what’s really happening out there," says Mr Hague.

“Commercial fishing is one of the most poorly regulated industries in New Zealand, and one of the least transparent. New Zealanders were shocked by the Operation Achilles cover up, where illegal fish dumping and non-reporting of Hector's dolphin bykill only came to light through leaked information and persistent investigative journalism.
The letter also states, “Such information, if it were to be selectively compiled into short succinct soundbites/videos by biased editing, would provide those opposed to commercial fishing or to government with a powerful tool for their propaganda.”
“Commercial fishing is vulnerable to criticism, not because it's being misrepresented by media or environmental advocates, but because New Zealanders are shocked by what the fishing industry has got away with," says Mr Hague.
Although much of the letter was framed in terms of protecting privacy and commercial sensitivity, the Official Information Act already protects privacy and commercial sensitivity and has done since 1982, something the Ombudsman’s Office confirmed to MPI in a briefing paper released at the same time. MPI already has stringent guidelines over the release of fisheries information.