Outrage at DoC's Duplicate Inshore Observer Programme

DOC double dipping another blow for fishing industry


Niko Kloeten - National Business Review


Fishermen are furious at the Department of Conservation’s plans to spend $1.2 million of their money on an inshore observer programme similar to one already being used by the Ministry of Fisheries.


Earlier this year MFish placed university students on board small inshore fishing vessels to monitor interactions and by-catch of protected species, particularly Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins.


The summer programme cost $1 million, paid for by fishing levies, and failed to find a single protected dolphin fatality after 963 observer days spread across 50 boats.


It drew the ire of many fishermen and resulted in ongoing prosecutions against two skippers who refused to have observers on board due to safety concerns.


Despite its teething problems the scheme will continue next year; Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley told NBR he was concerned about the level of by-catch of other endangered species such as yellow-eyed penguins.


And now DOC plans to reach into the pockets of fishermen to pay for its own observer programme, which has remarkably similar goals to that of the MFish programme and, with a price tag of $1.2 million in fishing levies, will cost even more.


NBR has obtained a copy of an email from DOC to inshore fishermen advising them “In the next 10 months, we aim to place government observers in your fishery”.


The overall objective of the programme will be “To understand the nature and extent on protected species interactions with New Zealand commercial fishing activities”.


Fishermen could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu – the objectives of MFish’s summer observer programme included to “Observe interactions, including any fishing-related mortalities, of protected species” with fishing boats.


Federation of Commercial Fishermen chief executive Pete Dawson slammed DOC’s decision, saying fishermen were outraged at the duplication of projects.


“It’s almost like a turf war between DOC and MFish,” he said. “DOC has become more and more involved in the marine environment.


“It is possible that some small inshore fishing vessel could end up with two different observers working for different govt agencies doing identical work at the same time. We’ll have observers observing observers – it’s going to be incredible.”


And the financial strain of funding two separate observer programmes added to the tough financial times the fishing industry was facing, Mr Dawson said.


“This double dipping is hurting an industry that’s already on its knees. They’ve got to realise that there’s a limit to the number of dollars you can extract from a kilo of fish before it becomes negative value.”


He pointed to one “particularly pointless” aspect of the DOC programme, which will place observers aboard boats dredging for oysters off Bluff to see if the dredging kills penguins.


“There’s no way in hell they’re going to catch penguins,” he said.


To try to allay the concerns of fishermen, DOC has scheduled a series of workshops around the country, beginning in Timaru tomorrow, all paid for through fishing levies.


“The fishermen are paying for this travel-fest. They’ll probably just be going there to yell abuse at the DOC staff, saying, ‘stop wasting our money’,” Mr Dawson said.