A new report claiming that for 60 years the New Zealand catch was more than twice the volume that was officially reported is lacking in scientific credibility, according to the Seafood New Zealand trade body. Moreover, the country’s latest fisheries status study notes that as a consequence of substantial reductions in quotas over the period 2001–2007, hoki stocks have increased in size for the last eight consecutive years, and are now well within or above their management target range. They are currently at their highest levels this century.
A member of the hake family, hoki is New Zealand’s most abundant fish species with a total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for the 2015/16 fishing year of 151,540 metric tons. Most of the catch is traditionally exported to key markets such as the EU, United States, China, Japan and Australia.
Picked up by various news channels, the controversial new report, Reconstruction of Marine Fisheries Catches for New Zealand (1950–2010), suggests that New Zealand has under-reported its catches to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) throughout this time period. However, this claim and others are refuted by both industry and government, who point to strict documentation requirements on catches, the high levels of enforcement and large penalties for infringements over the past 30 years.
In addition, the fisheries sector has highlighted its use of independent science to assess sustainable quota levels, which provides evidence that the actual catches have been very close to the reported catches during this period. Furthermore, more than half of the deepwater fleet, including all foreign-chartered vessels, now have Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) observers on board.
In a statement, Seafood New Zealand Chief Executive Tim Pankhurst commented: “To base estimates on historical anecdotes, rather than on factual scientific records, does a great disservice to our internationally recognised sustainably managed fisheries.”
It is not just the volume harvested or wide international demand that sets New Zealand hoki apart; it’s also celebrated for being something of a sustainability game-changer. It was the world’s first large whitefish stock to receive the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label, when it was first certified according to the standard in 2001. Re-certification was achieved in 2007 and then again in 2013.
In addition, the country’s southern blue whiting, albacore tuna, hake and ling fisheries are all certified as sustainable according to the programme.
New Zealand’s hoki fishery consists of an eastern stock and a western stock. Scientific research is carried out on each and separate catch limits apply as part of the overall species catch limit set annually. Currently, the science that is undertaken at a yearly cost of NDZ 10 million (€6 million), combined with the precautionary management in the setting of the TACC has hoki fishery at very sustainable levels.
Hoki fishing takes place at several grounds around the country, including the Stewart-Snares shelf south of Stewart Island, the sub Antarctic, the west coast of the South Island, Cook Strait, and the Chatham Rise east of the South Island.
Trawlers catch the fish year-round, but the main season runs from June to September.