The MSC Standard requires that the entire catch, including discards and bycatch, is accounted for and considered when determining whether stocks are strong enough to support the fishing being carried out
Are hoki stocks really twice the size?
The Simmons research into New Zealand fisheries appears to cast doubt over the sustainability of New Zealand hoki, but there are some serious concerns about the conclusion drawn. Most notably, if catches really were 2.7 times higher, then the fish stocks are in considerably better condition than anyone realised.
Prof Matthew Dunn, chairman in fisheries science, Victoria University Wellington, explained:
"If this report stands up scientifically, then we would have to modify some of our assessments of the size of our fish resources. Because catch estimates scale our stock estimates, the irony of that the '2.7 times' could mean there are more than twice as many of these fish in the sea as we think there is. This means sustainable catches, and catch quotas, could also be higher. If that was true I'd expect the industry to be saying "there's loads more fish out there, let us land it". Recently, the industry had the option of increasing the quota for hoki, but they actually declined. To me, this doesn't suggest that our catch and stock estimates are that wrong."
That's not to say everything is perfect. Since 2012 there have been been four prosecutions relating to discarding. Senior officers and the company received fines valuing NZ$1.2 million and the vessels and fishing gear were seized - worth a further NZ$23.5 million. All the vessels involved have left New Zealand and ceased trading.
MSC certification is based on current practices, not those of the past, and the independent assessment team is required to review all current information and evidence. No management system is ever perfect, but anecdotes of misreporting more than half a century old can't replace decades of hard data. Since they were first MSC certified in 2001, New Zealand hoki stocks have more than doubled as a result of careful stock management.
The MSC Standard requires that the entire catch, including discards and bycatch, is accounted for and considered when determining whether stocks are strong enough to support the fishing being carried out. The most recent audits included the recent prosecutions, examining the risk of discards on the basis of the Simmons paper and they concluded that - even with this risk taken into account - New Zealand's hoki fisheries are still sustainable. Part of an elite group that can legitimately call themselves ‘the best in the world'.
There's an irony to the story this story. MSC certified fisheries represent the top 10% of fisheries worldwide. While we argue about the sustainability of the top 10%, the remaining 90% face comparatively little scrutiny. With nearly a third of global fisheries overfished the lessons from New Zealand hoki could be a great benefit elsewhere in the world.
This Right of Reply is published in response to our recent report on New Zealand fisheries here: New Zealand Fisheries Fraud