Greenpeace is calling for an independent investigation of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) in light of an explosive academic report released today, which finds that the quantity of fish caught in New Zealand is more than twice what is officially recorded.

The University of Auckland report also releases evidence that suggests MPI has been deliberately suppressing this information.

The greatest proportion of this previously unaccounted for sea life is made up of unreported industrial catch and fish discards dumped by commercial fishing operators.

The Executive Director of Greenpeace New Zealand, Russel Norman, calls the paper “explosive”.

“It looks like the Ministry charged with looking after our oceans, have instead been looking after the fishing industry – it’s completely shocking” he says. “New Zealand’s industrial fishing companies have been underreporting the number of fish they have been taking for years, and the evidence suggests the MPI has been covering for them.”

The paper, called Reconstruction of Marine Fisheries Catches for New Zealand (1950-2010), draws on official records, interviews, literature, and data from a wide range of industry experts and personnel, to paint a damning picture of captured officials running interference for dishonest greedy fishing companies.

“The report explains why average Kiwis are struggling to catch a fish for the dinner table, and demonstrates why they don’t trust fishing companies,” says Norman. “These fish belong to all of us. The idea that almost every second fish is either stolen or biffed back into the sea dead as waste, goes against everything New Zealanders believe in.”

Of the total catch from foreign and New Zealand flagged vessels, commercial discards were estimated to be as high as 37.4% of fish caught. Unreported landings from the industrial sectors made up 18.3%.

“That means nearly twenty percent of all fish caught are stolen and over a third are thrown back. The waste is mind boggling,” says Norman.

One fisheries’ insider quoted in the report confirms this.

They say: “Anything we don’t want goes over the side. A lot of the inshore boats I have been on just don’t even record what they throw over the side. I’ve worked on a lot of bottom longliners and they have magic hooks, only ever catch snapper.”

Although there have been recent attempts to increase compliance, an unnamed compliance officer quoted in the report says, “if you don’t look for problems, you won’t find them.”

The officer goes on to suggest that the profits of misreporting outweigh the penalties of being caught, saying: “Penalties are viewed by many in the industry, particularly the foreign charter sector, as merely a cost of business.”

The Auckland University report also indicates that when evidence has been delivered to MPI in the past, they have either sat on it or, even worse according to Greenpeace’s Norman,  buried it. An MPI investigation quoted in the report acknowledges the ministry is relying on, “misleading and incorrect data to sustain our fisheries”.

Although this particular investigation outlines compelling visual evidence of serious offending, rather than pushing for prosecution, it warns of the potential PR disaster for both MPI and the New Zealand fishing industry should the information ever find it’s way to YouTube.

The MPI investigation quoted in this research says: “The sight of large perfectly good fish being systematically discarded in such large quantities could have a huge negative effect, as it could easily stir up an emotive backlash from not only the New Zealand public, but from international quarters as well.”

Then comes the admission that MPI have chosen not to act on dumping and discarding.

The excerpt from the MPI investigation states: “This combined with the fact that we have known about these dumpings/discarding issues for many years and would appear to have done little to combat it would be very difficult to explain and be unpleasant at best,” the investigations reads.

Greenpeace’s Norman says this sort of information is “damning”.

“A government ministry sitting on something so compelling appears to be evidence of a deliberate cover-up,” he says. “Fisheries has always been highly political, and perhaps never more so than now.”

The University of Auckland’s report also reveals a situation where multiple vulnerable Hector’s dolphins were caught, and only one reported. This follows on from allegations that surfaced just last Friday,  in a study by German conservation organisation, NABU International, that revealed a critically endangered Maui dolphin catch cover-up by MPI. Norman says Greenpeace is demanding an independent investigation into the government department.

“Not only has the catch been more than double what has been recorded, but it appears that MPI have known and kept it quiet,” he says. “MPI must now release any visual evidence they have hidden, and let all New Zealanders see what is going on out at sea. ”

The report, Reconstruction of marine fisheries catches for New Zealand (1950-2010), can be downloaded here.