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There is no cover up

Friday 26 January 2018

Images of dead dolphins and seabirds are shocking.

They were used to maximum effect by some media last week in damaging footage that claimed the fishing industry was guilty of a cover-up.

The coverage arose from a letter sent last July to the Ministry for Primary Industries raising concerns about unfettered access to camera footage of fishing operations and the way this might be misused.

The detailed letter, on behalf of Deepwater Group, Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, Paua Industry Council, New Zealand Rock Lobster Industry Council and Seafood New Zealand, called for exemption from the Official Information Act for such footage.

It also reiterated industry support for the obtaining of robust information to better inform fisheries management decisions.

That, of course, was not reported or acknowledged by the anti-fishing brigade.

What did emerge, once the letter was supplied in December to Forest & Bird under the OIA, was highly emotive pictures, taken 10 years ago in one case, of dead common dolphins in a trawl and an albatross caught on a longline.

Ironically, the distortions, generalisations, selective use of material and overall bias confirmed the industry’s fears.

The fact is huge strides have been made in reducing endangered species bycatch. Such catches are recorded and are made public.

For example, in the Southern Ocean squid trawl fishery weekly reports are filed and made public under an MPI operational plan to manage the incidental capture of sea lions.

They show that after four weeks of the current season there have been 54 tows, observer coverage has been 100 percent and the number of sea lions caught is zero.

The fishing sector is not in denial. It does have an impact on the marine environment just as farming does on land, and is closely monitored accordingly.

What it is concerned about is footage being taken out of context and used to damage a major export sector in international markets.

Activist environmental NGOs have a clear agenda, that is to stop commercial fishing.

We have already seen a German-based eNGO, acting in collusion with local sympathisers, call for an international boycott of New Zealand seafood.

That was based on demonstrably untrue allegations that Maui dolphins were being killed in the deepwater hoki fishery.

The regulator, in the form of MPI, will receive hundreds of thousands of hours of video footage if cameras are widely installed on the New Zealand fishing fleet.

No other industry is subject to such scrutiny.

Such footage should not and cannot be subject to random access by outside bodies for malicious use.

Imagine if cameras were mounted on the dashboards of every truck in the country and the resulting footage combed to show every time a centre line was crossed, speed limits were broken, passing was risky or there was a collision.

Such a selective compilation would portray an alarming – and inaccurate – picture of an industry seemingly out of control.

Calls for its closure, regardless of cost and practicality, would promptly follow.

MPI has yet to advise on its stance on public access to camera footage but Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash has assured he will not allow outside bodies to go on “fishing expeditions”.

But he has stated he has not seen a compelling case to change the Fisheries Act around the application of the OIA.

He said there were already provisions within the OIA to protect people’s privacy and commercially sensitive information.

Fisheries management director Stuart Anderson earlier stated options were being developed for the roll-out of digital monitoring.

“Industry has proposed changes to how fisheries data held by MPI should be released,” he said.

“Those proposals are being considered alongside other options including maintaining the status quo. No decision has been made yet.

“There are many elements to consider carefully in balancing the responsibilities of transparency and public interest while protecting privacy and other sensitive information.”

Seafood New Zealand’s response was that industry hoped the current protections under the OIA were sufficient to address serious concerns around privacy, IP, commercial sensitivity and the potential misuse of data and video taken out of context.

That needed to be clarified.

They key thing is there is no cover up and there never has been.

Putting cameras on vessels which the regulator has 24/7 access to is the opposite of a cover up.

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