The science of sustainable seafood, explained

Scientists Argue about New Zealand Fisheries

In December 2016, we featured a post by Michael Melnychuk discussing his recent paper examining worldwide fishery management. The paper used interviews with fishery experts around the world to review fisheries management in different countries around the world. Since then, the paper was criticized by Slooten et al (2017), claiming that the interview subjects for New Zealand were biased in favor of the fishing industry.

Melnychuk and co formally responded to the claims last week. In this post, co-author Ray Hilborn furthers a response to the criticism.

Comment by Ray Hilborn, University of Washington

Slooten et al. (2017) begin their critique by suggesting our survey was based on “opinion” and that our survey respondents were strongly biased towards commercial fishing interests. Both of these are incorrect. Our survey covered very specific elements of the fishery management system and included questions like “are stock assessments conducted for this species?” These are not opinions but matters of fact. Most questions on the survey were of this nature and required a detailed understanding of how specific species were managed.

Seven people completed the survey; of these, three have current or past links to environmental NGOs. Two currently work for the government or its research laboratory, one is a private consultant who has worked largely for the fishing industry, and one is a consultant who has worked largely for Maori fishing interests. There was no significant difference in the evaluation of NZ fisheries based on the background of the respondent.

There have been several previous comparisons of fisheries management systems around the world (which we cite in our original paper) and New Zealand always comes out among the top countries. Pauly and Alder (2008) (Pauly was one of the authors on the Slooten et al. critique) ranked countries quality of management of their EEZ and New Zealand was rated #1. Dirk Zeller, also one of the authors of the Slooten paper, was a coauthor on a previous paper that had New Zealand rated as one of the best fisheries management countries in the world. Indeed in the Mora paper, New Zealand was rated better than the U.S., Iceland, Norway and Russia, which were countries that ranked higher than New Zealand in our study.

From Pauly and Alder (2008)
From Mora et al. (2009)

Pitcher et al. (2009) looked at whether countries’ fisheries management systems were compliant with the FAO code of conduct, and again New Zealand was evaluated in the top 10.

Rankings of the top 12 countries from Pitcher et al. 2009

Worm et al. (2009) evaluated the performance of the New Zealand system favorably as demonstrated by the following two quotes from that paper: “However, only in the California Current and in New Zealand are current exploitation rates predicted to achieve a conservation target of less than 10% of stocks collapsed.” and “The inherent uncertainty in fisheries, however, requires that agencies act before it comes to that stage (overexploitation SIC) … this is especially true in light of accelerating global change. We found that only Alaska and New Zealand seemed to have acted with such foresight.”

Also, Daniel Pauly has previously commented on the relative strength of the New Zealand management system: “Researchers must use studies that do not represent a grossly biased sample, drawn from the well-managed fisheries of a few countries or regions at the world’s end, like Alaska or New Zealand.”

We agree, which is why our FMI survey was designed to be applicable not only to countries at such “ends of the world,” but also to countries in between. We found, as Pauly suggested, that New Zealand fisheries are among the best managed in the world; most other countries could improve their fisheries management by emulating New Zealand.

The Fisheries Management Index (FMI) survey concentrates on how fisheries are managed, but much of the criticism by Slooten et al. (2017) concerned lack of studies of environmental effects of fishing on other parts of the ecosystems. This simply was not a focus of the survey (as emphasized in the title of our PNAS paper: “Fisheries management impacts on target species status”). With respect to managing the harvest of target species, New Zealand is one of the better countries in the world. The first step in good ecosystem based management is to manage the fish stocks in a sustainable way and this is essentially what our survey covered.

Slooten et al. (2017) argued that management of smaller fish stocks in New Zealand is not as intensive as the larger stocks, and that the survey examined only large stocks. Our survey covered 19 fish species in New Zealand constituting 73% of NZ catch. Five of these were small stocks with catch less than 1,000 tons. It is certainly true that New Zealand, like all countries, devotes most of its management efforts to larger and more valuable stocks. The semi-randomized sampling scheme, which gives more weight to larger and more valuable stocks but also ensures the inclusion of some smaller stocks, was consistent across all countries.

In summary, the assertion by the authors of the letter to PNAS that the people who completed our survey was biased and rated the New Zealand fisheries management system artificially high, simply does not stand up to comparison based on other published evaluations which also rate the NZ system highly. The New Zealand system could certainly be improved, both with respect to smaller fish stocks and more research on the environmental impacts of fishing.

Ray Hilborn is a Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. Find him on twitter here: @hilbornr

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3 Responses

  1. Guy misleading the public
    The Ministry for Primary Industries insists the cameras it is trialing on fishing boats will be used to prosecute illegal fishing.
    Yet a leaked MPI report rubbished that the trials on the cameras was “misleading” and poor quality and unsuitable for prosecutions.
    “I want to categorically assure you that the information from the cameras can be used to support prosecutions,” said the ministry’s acting director of fisheries, Steve Halley.
    The leaked report, written by two of the ministry’s own forensic experts, said the footage from the cameras being tested in a snapper fishery off Auckland showed the resolution was too poor to identify the species or size of fish – both crucial factors for any prosecution.
    Two experts on using cameras as measuring tools, Professor Steve Dawson and Dr Pascal Sirguey, of Otago University, looked at footage from the trial cameras for RNZ.
    They both said there was much better, affordable technology than what they had seen was being used on the fishing boats.
    The resolution from the trial cameras was too poor to identify fish size or species, just as the leaked report maintained, they said.
    But Mr Halley said that was because the trial in that case was to test how good the cameras were for recording legal fish-discarding in bins, and they performed well.
    In addition, he said more advanced technology would be put on boats in the industry roll-out next year.
    He said tests overseas had shown that technology could identify fish size and species.
    The co-author of the report that was leaked, Graeme Bremner, put out a statement last week.
    “Without a lot more detailed work of the kind described in the suppressed report … the ministry will simply collect vast amounts of footage which are of little real evidential value,” he wrote.
    A former fisheries manager now with the New Zealand Initiative think tank, Dr Randall Bess, was in no doubt where the onus lay for clearing up public confusion.
    “It’s for MPI and the minister to provide the details that gives the public confidence that they are going to come through.”
    The 2017 Budget put $30 million towards the new fish monitoring and reporting system. Mr Guy said it would make New Zealand the “most transparent and accountable commercial fishery anywhere in the world”.
    Another MPI joke.

  2. Nathan Guy is not giving kiwis a fair go
    Recreational bag limits have been repeated lowered since 1985 and commercial catch increased – why?
    Because the government allows commercial fishers to catch and export more – nothing comes back to our economy it just goes into the bank accounts of the quota owners and shareholders, while the actual commercial fishers gets penalized by the fishing sheds for not catching the target species.
    Our Fish and Chip shops have difficulty accessing fresh fish and when they can the cost makes it almost prohibitive for consumers to buy.
    A reader contacted Mr Guy to ascertain what could be done to give kiwis access to fresh fish at export wholesale prices.
    Here is an email received from Nathan Guy, Minister for Primary Industries.
    Read closely the first few lines – what Nathan Guy is saying is that the export market is better “value” than a domestic Kiwi market!!!
    Guy is making second class citizens out of Kiwis preferring that NZ accepts and drops its pants for a few dollars more!
    What an absurd philosophy. NZ’ers aren’t second class citizens Mr Guy.
    This reply to the document sent by Guy could open a door to a public debate.
    The concerning point is that Guy considers the – export market – as being more important than us Kiwis access to affordable fish!…..this is bonkers and he needs to be corrected asap. Guy is seriously short on brain power, priorities

  3. Former MPI person speaks up on fisheries management
    Recently on social media a semi-retired professional fisherman and diver who has worked throughout Australian eastern states and various locations in New Zealand, made comment about the shocking state of the MPI management of our fishery.
    ‘I travel regularly between Australia and New Zealand and have been a commentator on the NZ fisheries management system for nearly three decades. On this current trip I discover that something that was a jewel in the crown of the country has become tarnished and damaged. Politicians have been manipulated; public servants are lacking impartiality and objectivity; a minister responsible for fisheries is obviously not trusted by his own Cabinet; and a former minister of conservation has some vague marine protection agenda that is obviously eroding fishing industry confidence in maintaining custodial attitudes and stewardship of the resources in which they have invested to hold access and utilisation rights. What a mess … what a tragedy is unfolding.’
    ‘You won’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’.
    ‘Two years on and the situation is even worse than I described it in 2015. The new FOOF consultation released recently is a massive PR stunt by MPI and obviously agreed by a weak Minister wanting to redeem a damaged reputation. You reccie blokes are going to get it in the neck as well – read between the lines boyos. The commercial guys are all but gone other than in craying and paua diving and any fishing well away from population centres.’
    I have a very open mind and very definitely am not captured by MPI. My view is that tactically and strategically MPI are hopeless and have been since the McNee reforms six or more year ago.
    I heard that bloke Turner on Radio NZ yesterday – he is full of piss and wind. He actually told a lie when answering the reporter’s question but she was not quick enough to pick up on it.
    Show me some evidence that MPI is actually managing fishing across the inshore stocks and I might be willing to stand back and watch – but I don’t see much of it on my regular trips back to NZ.
    The NZ fisheries management regime is probably the best in the world on paper but has been extremely poorly implemented and right now MPI is doing its best to further dismantle it. If MPI’s effectiveness relies on wafflers like that bloke Turner then bureaucrats will wreck the system and we will wait ten years to rebuild our fish stocks back to current levels. The only one thing that holds the system together – and I don’t know how long it can do that – is the Treaty Settlement. ITQ was used as the currency of a full and final settlement. That will be the only thing that slows down the destruction of the management system.
    Those within MPI, working at the coalface, are by and large doing a great job and I don’t want to be seen bagging them at all. Their leadership and Managers? that is another issue.

    Fisheries Officers? Yes – absolutely agree. Some of the most unfairly maligned and poorly supported personnel you can meet.

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