MPI must suspend IEMRS or risk failure

The Ministry for Primary Industries is being given the message that there is support in principle for the Integrated Electronic Monitoring and Reporting System (IEMRS), but not for the way it is being rammed through.

A group of southern fishermen say they are being treated like criminals by MPI and are considering court action.

Fisheries Inshore New Zealand says MPI runs a high risk of failure if it presses on with the current version of IEMRS.

The system will require commercial fishing vessels, regardless of size, to carry and operate a Geospatial Position Reporting device (GPR) and provide electronic monitoring; large trawlers from Oct 1 and the remainder of the fleet by 1 April 2018.

A second stage, that of cameras on boats, will take effect from October 1 next year.

In a submission to the MPI consultation on Draft Circulars, FINZ chief executive Dr Jeremy Helson said the industry had clearly signalled its support for the IEMRS concept and repeatedly sought to work with officials to implement a workable solution.

“MPI, through its mode of working on this project, has squandered an opportunity to implement a significant and valuable improvement to fisheries management in New Zealand,” the submission said.

MPI did not consult on the regulations before promulgation and Helson is calling for MPI to suspend IEMRS and convene a working group of industry experts to address the issues identified.

Legal guidance from the Court of Appeal states; Consultation must allow sufficient time, and a genuine effort must be made. It is a reality, not a charade. To consult is not merely to tell or present.

“Given the scope of what is proposed, we consider a four-week consultation is inadequate," Helson said. "MPI’s position has been that it will specify requirements and it will be up to fishers to meet those. However, even if the legal requirements were realistic, the technology to comply does not yet exist, has not been tested at sea, and is very unlikely to have crew trained and the equipment installed on more than 1,000 vessels in the next six months."

The regulations require that all vessels, except for tenders deployed from purse seining vessels, must have a GPR device.

“There are more than 300 such vessels and many are small, unpowered row boats that are tenders to vessels such as trawlers. Why these small vessels should be required to carry and operate a GPR when their principal vessel does is not explained and, in our view, imposes needless cost and duplication,” the FINZ submission said.

“We are also concerned that all vessels, whether they are actively fishing or not, must still report their position to MPI. What if this vessel is being used for recreation, transporting goods or any other activity unrelated to fishing?”

MPI requires all vessels to be able to transmit position reports from anywhere at sea. This makes satellite GPR compulsory.

“So a five metre vessel fishing in the Firth of Thames must be capable of transmitting GPR reports from the Ross Sea in Antarctica and from Hawaii, even though it has zero chance of ever fishing in those places. This is a flawed one-size-fits-all approach that makes no distinction between a 105 metre ocean-going vessel and a dinghy."

FINZ said the electronic reporting component of IEMRS had the potential to streamline and improve reporting, however the changes mooted by MPI were not thought through.

“MPI requires the date and time of fishing and the location be entered immediately, which is fine for larger vessels with designated crew, however impossible for the 230 vessels that fish with a sole crew member. To suggest that this sole crew member prioritise the immediate reporting to MPI over the handling of the vessel and the catch is irresponsible. We want that amended to ‘as soon as practicable’."

FINZ raised many other issues in its submission, including matters of personal privacy and the MPI estimates of the cost of implementation and benefits to fishers.

“We believe both the estimated costs and purported benefits of IEMRS are wildly inaccurate. In fact, we believe the costs will be significantly higher and the financial benefits to industry almost non-existent.

“We also raised the basic issue of fairness of unintentional non-compliance. Operating electrical equipment at sea, particularly in small open vessels, is very challenging and prone to failure. When non-compliance is carrying a fine of $100,000 and an extra $1,000 per day for ongoing breaches – and the onus is on the operator to prove technical malfunction – that is a heavy cost to bear."

The full submission may be found on Fisheries Inshore New Zealand website