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Auckland University still pushing shonky research into QMS

Friday 8 September 2017

Auckland University academics renewed their efforts this week to discredit the Quota Management System that underpins the country’s commercial fisheries.

Also this week, Auckland University tumbled down the list of global rankings, dropping by 27 places to just inside the top 200 at number 192.

Meanwhile Otago, Canterbury and Massey universities maintained their performance and the University of Waikato and Auckland University of Technology jumped a band, according to the global rankings published by Times Higher Education, which are primarily based on research volume, income, reputation and citations.

If the shonky, politically driven research by Auckland University academics into alleged fishing catches over 61 years from 1950 is anything to go by, it is no wonder the institution is on the slide.

And the university cannot say it was not warned about the huge discrepancies in a so-called research programme report it has rushed to embrace.

On June 1 last year, law firm Chapman Tripp on behalf of Seafood NZ wrote to Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Prof Stuart McCutcheon raising formal concern about the catch reconstruction report, noting “it is vital that the university’s brand and reputation is maintained through research that is undertaken applying the highest ethical standards, particularly given the University of Auckland’s international reputation and ranking”.

There was no response.

On Oct 11, Seafood NZ wrote to Prof McCutcheon pointing out the claim New Zealand’s catch was 2.7 times more than that reported to the United Nations Fisheries and Agriculture Organisation could not be substantiated given the report’s methodology and data was so unclear.

The claims were damaging to a $1.8 billion export industry that employed thousands of New Zealanders and were being used in a political campaign to discredit the industry, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Government.

The report headlined by Auckland University Business School head Prof Nigel Haworth, who is also president of the Labour Party, and colleague Dr Glenn Simmons has been dismissed by international experts and MPI and NIWA scientists.

Seafood NZ urged the university to provide the requisite research material to allow a rigorous, independent evaluation of the report’s findings.

The university declined to do so and Prof McCutcheon declined to meet.

Instead it claimed it had no information relating to the project - which is part of an international Sea Around Us project part funded by the US-based Pew Foundation – nor to the catch reconstruction estimates, or to the analyses.

To the extent the university was involved, it refused access to documentation on the grounds of confidentiality.

That is not the way a responsible, publicly-funded institution behaves.

Seafood NZ has complained to the Ombudsman over what it sees as clear breaches of Official Information Act obligations.

The complaint has been acted on and Ombudsman investigators questioned university staff last week.

Dr Simmons and fellow anti-commercial fishing academics resuming their attack this week aimed to “lower the QMS from its undeserved pedestal”.

The hysterical arm of the recreational fishing lobby that has aligned with Simmons et al needs to be wary of what it wishes for.

Any genuine, comprehensive review of the QMS – which would hold no fears for the seafood industry - would naturally encompass the missing piece of the jigsaw. That is the size of the recreational catch, which is currently not measured or properly managed.

The Labour Party supports the QMS but advocates an independent review of its operation and also the performance of MPI, according to its fisheries policy released yesterday.

But its antagonism towards MPI is revealed in an extraordinary citing of criticism of officials for alleged cover-ups and “misrepresentations to their Minister, journalists and the public”.

That will make for interesting conversations if Labour is elected.

As for the Ombudsman’s report into Auckland University’s conduct, due any day, that could prove highly educational.

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