Hook, Line and Blinkers: Everything that Kiwis never wanted to know about fishing Published by Phantom House Books.
Daryl Sykes reviews a book, which casts a critical eye on New Zealand’s fishing industry, among other things, and has been generating a lot of publicity since its release last year. This book is co-authored by Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons. Their intention is clearly worthwhile but they deliver to their readers a pop history of fishing – global and local underpinned and overlaid by some obvious personal preferences and biases. Which is fine; it is after all their book. The initial responses to the release of the Morgan/Simmons book have been interesting to observe – selective acceptance and both cautious and intemperate criticism from recreational fishing commentators; and some predictably opportunist commentary by various recreational zealots and eco-pundits who can generally be relied upon never to let a chance go by to have a tilt at commercial fishing and/or the QMS. A trawl through various recreational fishing website discussion boards reveals a large number of contributors who have not properly read the book but who have seized on aspects of it to give the fishing industry – and in particular the “greedy corporates” - yet another good kicking. Which in itself perhaps reveals the truth of the book title in regard to what some Kiwis never wanted to know. Unfortunately all the facts which constitute the truth of fisheries management in New Zealand are not consistently served up to readers. There is no doubt that serious research and investigation went into the preparation of Hook Line and Blinkers – but for a book that promises to tell the reader what he or she never wanted to know but in the opinions of Morgan and Simmons still very much needs to know, for me the book fails in one critical area. Yes it is a good read; yes, I confirm that if you have a genuine interest in the broader aspects of fisheries management in New Zealand then you will learn from this book. But the failure is a crucial one in that it embeds a widely held prejudice against the fishing industry – and is also one I really do have trouble understanding given the profiles and reputations of the authors and their acknowledged sources. My initial criticism of the authors was their lightly questioned acceptance of the proposition that the commercial fishing industry wreaks unacceptable environmental damage. “Bottom trawling and by-
book leads the reader to two key problems that the authors see in New
catch of marine mammals and seabirds are the best-known examples of
Zealand fisheries - inadequate environmental safeguards on commercial
fishing’s negative impacts.” What is missing is any credible comparison
fishing, and the pathetic management of recreational fishing.
of the environmental performance of other food producers and any
So therein lay the problems but what do Morgan and Simmons
scaling of “negative”. The inference is that the scale is no more robust
offer as prospective solutions? Not unexpectedly given their level of
than one of public perception fostered by the eco-cults. At least they
research and consideration the authors put their weight behind a quota
go this far -“Squawking greenies are no help either. All food production
management system. But it is in this regard that their book and their
has some impact on the earth.”
subsequent media presentations perpetuate the modern urban myths
Filleted of a summary of biology, oceanography and environment; skinned of its brief world view and various tragedies of the commons, the
SEAFOOD NEW ZEALAND February 2012
that when the QMS was implemented in 1986 it solely constituted a commercial fisheries management regime – it did not – and that it
denied any allowance for recreational fishing – it did not. The authors
good data, good science and output controls – Total Allowable Catches
write “In the 80s we did lead the world by taking the bold step of
(TACs). The ‘quota’ component of the QMS is an ancillary currency of
closing the Commons and putting commercial fishing under the Quota
trade and exchange, at present restricted to commercial participants
Management System. Well done. ...”
but a ‘system’ intended to cover all extractive and non-extractive
Well done indeed, except that the QMS was intended (and to
interests in fisheries. The architects and original advocates of the QMS
some limited extent has been operated as) the New Zealand fisheries
could/should have explained to Morgan and Simmons that the system
management regime, not solely a commercial fishing management
is a tradable rights-based regime to allow management of a natural
tool. And it is in the history of the introduction of the QMS that
resource in which there were and continue to be a range of extractive
Morgan and Simmons fail; badly.
and non-extractive, and inevitably competing, interests.
I quote “... industry ... got the quota for free” – we did not. ITQs
Again in my view, that we have failed over 25 years to complete
were a replacement for access and utilisation rights already owned.
that rights-based framework and along the way have silently witnessed
Again I quote “The first oversight often raised with our QMS is that it
various politicians and bureaucrats generally ignoring the option for
handed a $4 billion asset to fishers, which is now held by a small group
rights-based resolution of competing interests justifies this comment
of large companies. This was probably the biggest swindle since the
and challenge from the authors – “But since then (1980s) we have
European land grab here of the 19th century.” Not true on several
rested on our laurels, and fallen behind. The world has moved
counts. There was no swindle and the social, cultural, environmental and
on, and this has shown up some glaring flaws in the way we fish.
economic dividends to New Zealand from the QMS have been immense.
Recreational fishing is still a free for all, and there are few controls on
And ownership of fishing rights is not confined to a small elite.
the environmental damage caused by the commercial fishing industry.
I do not understand how Morgan and Simmons felt confident in
It’s time to take off the blinkers and with that wider perspective, first
making these statements. An opportunity to debate and correct them
acknowledge that we are no longer doing such a great job, and then
would be well received; in part because I have long held the view that
regain our world leadership.”
the QMS is poorly named for what it is and more poorly understood
Despite my own reservations about some of the authors’
by politicians and the wider community. And the blame for that rests
explanations and analyses the book is much more than just a vanity
as much with the fishing industry as it does with anyone else – and for
project for the occasionally philanthropic Morgan and is deserving firstly
various reasons. We have a duty to put that right.
of a read, and more importantly of a response. The incorrect assertions
The basics of the QMS are not difficult to explain: the fish stock and environmental ‘management’ components of the QMS rely on
should not go unchallenged and the challenges to the authors (and from them) should not remain unanswered.
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February 2012 SEAFOOD NEW ZEALAND 13
Published on Feb 28, 2012