Independent review of MPI/MFish prosecution decisions Operations Achilles, Hippocamp and Overdue

Fisheries Law enforcement Ecosystem management New Zealand

This is the report of an independent review of three New Zealand fisheries compliance operations undertaken by the former Ministry of Fisheries and MPI and associated prosecution decisions. The reivew was carried out by Michael Heron, a Queen’s Counsel and former Solicitor General. 

On 19 May 2016 the MPI Director-General commissioned a review into the decisions made by MPI in respect to the two operations (Hippocamp and Achilles) and a third called Overdue. The review was into the circumstances around each Operation, the appropriateness of any decision not to prosecute and the adequacy of MFish and MPI’s response. 

On 16 May 2016 the University of Auckland Business School announced the findings of the research led by Dr Glenn Simmons into the New Zealand fishery catch (Simmons report). The findings suggested that fish without economic value have been routinely dumped at sea and not reported.

The Simmons report suggested the total catch since the Quota Management System was introduced in 1986 is much greaterthan officially reported. The vast majority of the discrepancy is said to be unreported commercial catch and discards. The abstract for the report concludes “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.”

The findings in the Simmons report, in particular quantification of unreported catch, have been controversial. There are concerns with the report's methodology and conclusions and in particular the response is made that estimation of the total catch is not a valid measurement of the health of the fish stocks.

On 18 May 2016 Newshub reported obtaining information that New Zealand fishing boats have been illegally dumping quota fish. The source was MPI reports into two MPI operations named Achilles and Hippocamp conducted in 2012 and 2013 – each of which was earlier referred to in the Simmons report.

As a result, there was criticism of MPI’s decisions not to prosecute in these two operations. 

General findings

Any criticisms made in this report need to be seen in context. MPI prosecutes hundreds of cases each year, including many fisheries cases. Its processes are generally robust and its people experienced and professional.

The issue of discards was again highlighted by Operations Hippocamp and more clearly by Operation Achilles. It is a problem that has been recognised since the beginning of the QMS. MFish and MPI have not grappled effectively with aspects of the problem and either enforced the law or acted to change it. The non-enforcement of the law in a case such as Achilles is unsatisfactory but primarily due to conduct outside of the Compliance directorate.

MPI may wish to consider a review of the relationship between Fisheries Management and Compliance in terms of the planning of Fisheries Management operations (such as observers or cameras) and the interrelationship with potential Compliance operations. In turn, review is required of follow-up from Compliance operations back to Fisheries Management efforts.

The issues raised in the Simmons report have long been recognised by MFish/MPI and industry. A coherent rationale to the rules around discards is not obvious. The fisheries management system is under review at present and provides an opportunity examine this. In the meantime, it is incumbent on commercial fishing to improve their performance and comply with the current law. At least one of the vessels the subject of Operation Achilles was able to do so.

MPI's reponse and a selection of the internal documents provided to the independent reviewer are also from the MPI website.

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