“no conflict of interest”

Fishing industry monitor is wholly owned by Seafood New Zealand, investigation reveals

A company contracted to monitor overfishing, manage quotas and decide on licences for the fishing industry is wholly owned by – and working out of the same office – as the industry’s biggest lobby group.

The extent of government powers held by the company, named FishServe, and its links to the industry group, Seafood New Zealand, were uncovered by investigators at Greenpeace.

For the past 20 years the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has been outsourcing a swathe of monitoring duties to FishServe, the investigation found, including checking quota compliance and receiving catch reports.

“What this means in practice is that, in order to prosecute fishing companies for legal breaches, the government regulator, MPI, has to rely on data collected and provided by a company owned by the fishing companies themselves, FishServe,” said Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman.

“This is a classic example of regulatory capture – where an industry controls the government regulator that is supposed to be controlling the industry.”

Companies Office records revealed the company is tightly wound together with the fishing industry. FishServe is a wholly owned subsidiary of Seafood New Zealand.

It operates from the same Wellington office as Seafood New Zealand – sharing a receptionist – as well as other industry groups including Deepwater Group, Fisheries Inshore New Zealand and New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen.

All of its four directors are involved in fishing. One, Tim Pankhurst, is also the chief executive of Seafood New Zealand.

On first glance, it doesn’t look good. ?

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said there was no conflict of interest, because FishServe was “an administrative tool”, and had no regulatory function.

“It is like a mailbox for collecting data,” he said. “It has been publicly operating for over 20 years with no issue, and with a range of checks and balances on the data collected.”

FishServe underwent internal audit, and information from it was reconciled with data provided from licensed fish receivers. Its function was administrative only, and it had no decision-making powers, it said.

However, Greenpeace pointed out that in the “transfer of powers” paper, FishServe not only appointed its own auditors, but was enabled to make decisions about licences for fish receivers. It was also entitled to monitor overfishing and determine when a prohibition would come into effect.

Norman said it was another case of the “fox guarding the hen house”.

“We just don’t understand how FishServe, working alongside lobby groups and fishing industry-owned companies on a daily basis, owned and controlled by a powerful industry lobby group, can be allowed to act as proxy ‘regulator’.”

With the NZ Herald and Greenpeace behind this hit, I’ll reserve judgement until more information comes out.

But for people who think there is no corruption in New Zealand, this could be yet another example.


– Kirsty Johnson, NZ Herald