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Smear campaign lacks substance and evidence

Friday 2 February 2018

Facts are stubborn but statistics are more pliable, observed Mark Twain.

However, the activist environmental lobby opposed to commercial fishing does not let facts or statistics stand in its way.

Environmental NGOs, substantial businesses which operate as tax free charities, have embarked on a campaign to demonise the fishing industry, presumably aimed at encouraging the new government to take punitive measures.

So far this year we have seen a concerted attack that has included denigration of Marine Stewardship Council certification of hoki and orange roughy fisheries, claims the industry wants to hide dead dolphins, penguins and sea lions and that it is driving albatrosses to extinction.

In each case there is selective use of data, extrapolations that do not withstand rigorous scientific scrutiny and highly emotive language.

The industry does have entirely legitimate concerns about privacy, intellectual property, commercial sensitivity and the potential misuse of data and video taken out of context.

That is, of course, used as a club by the industry opponents to claim a cover up.

There is no denying commercial fishing has an impact on the marine environment, just as farming does on land, but it is to nowhere near the disastrous extent opponents claim.

Forest & Bird continues to state on its website that commercial fishing boats caught 44 dolphins in the Bay of Plenty last year, despite being advised there was a coding error and that the Ministry for Primary Industries accepts these captures did not occur.

Similarly, increases in Maui and Hector’s dolphin population estimates have been ignored.

Despite the deepwater hoki fishery, New Zealand’s largest by both volume and value, having been rigorously assessed by the London-based MSC three times going back to 2001, Forest & Bird and Greenpeace have upped their opposition.

The latest claim is that Salvin’s albatrosses are being killed to such an extent in the hoki fishery the species’ survival is threatened.

That is arrant nonsense when the latest estimates show 40,000 breeding pairs at the Bounty Islands, a 26 percent increase on 2010.

There is ample evidence that the populations of sea lions, Maui and Hector’s dolphins and the majority of albatross species are stable and in some cases increasing.

There are a number of threats to their existence, not least disease, but it is not credible to continue to claim the fishing industry is driving them to extinction.

As economist Ronald Coase put it: “If you torture data enough, it will confess to anything.”

This raises the question, who holds the torch bearers to account?

Is it ethical to threaten the livelihoods of thousands of hard working Kiwis, reduce availability of delicious and popular protein and seek to damage a major export industry internationally without regard to the truth?

The modus operandi is well established – take a worst case scenario, ignore any scientific research that contradicts that, attack the messenger (in this case MSC), cultivate sympathetic media and avoid constructive debate and engagement.

There is a better way.

That is to look for solutions, seek partnerships, foster goodwill.

It’s not an untried approach - the World Wildlife Fund has managed to do it through a partnership with industry and officials under the Southern Seabirds Solutions Trust, which has made great strides in reducing seabird mortalities.

The industry is willing to engage and it is committed to guardianship of a sustainable fishery for future generations.

That is why it has made a promise to New Zealanders to reduce its impact on the marine environment and developed a related code of conduct.

Let us be judged on our performance against that, rather than be continually berated by those who will only be satisfied when there is no more commercial fishing

 

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