Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) is concerned that a recent study about the reconstruction of marine fisheries catches in New Zealand may be painting a misleading picture about seafood stocks in the region. The study, produced by the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, compiles data recorded from 1950 to 2010. Among the study’s conclusions is the assertion that the total catch during the study’s 61-year period is 2.7 times higher than the amounts reported to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). SFP believes that the study’s reliance on historical data skews its conclusion toward an allegation that the current problems of discards and waste are worse than they actually are.

Commenting on the study, SFP Fishery Technical Director Geoff Tingley said:

“The methods in the paper are questionable, but regardless of the methods, the paper is highly misleading in aggregating historical data and implying current performance is as bad. The paper itself shows that since the mid 1990s catches have been reported more appropriately. Discards are still present, but as Figure 2 in their report shows, even by their own calculations the current discard rate is only approximately 20-25% higher than the reported catch figures across all NZ fisheries, not the 2.7 times higher implied in the report.”

Specifically, the study mentions hoki, along with four other species, as constituting more than half the total seafood landings through the period examined. The study says these species were “some of the most misreported and discarded species over the time period considered.” In addition, the study says reported hoki landings contained “large discrepancies” over the years. However, these assertions are contradicted by a different report from two of the study’s authors. The 2009 report, “Unreported bycatch in the New Zealand West Coast South Island hoki fishery,” lists Graeme Bremner and Philip Clarke among its authors. Both are also listed as authors of the 2016 study.

The 2009 report comes to a different conclusion, noting: “…in the context of the West Coast hoki fishery major changes are not warranted. The WCSI hoki fishery targets spawning aggregations, and only about 18% of the catch by weight is incidental bycatch. The limit on hoki landings provides some control on the catches of the various bycatch species. There is not a great deal of bycatch to misreport. However, if reporting of bycatch is equally biased in other fisheries with more bycatch, the issue cannot safely be ignored.”

In other words, discards a decade ago were less of a problem than the 2016 report suggests. The best available data today indicates a discard rate of about 7% in offshore fisheries. Discards are monitored, impacts on stocks are minor, and taken into account in the formal fisheries management decisions. SFP believes that effective monitoring, data collection, science and management are in part responsible for the health of the main offshore hoki fisheries today. Moreover, the most recent stock assessments for the two hoki stocks, completed only this month, show both stocks to be above their management target and in a very healthy state.

SFP also encourages New Zealand industry and regulators to continue existing efforts to improve selectivity, improve the survival of unintended catch and require its live return. We recommend monitoring via methods such as tagging to measure survivability. We also urge the New Zealand seafood industry to transition to a ban on remaining discards as commercial uses for the fish are identified and handling facilities developed.