The World is Their Pearl Oyster


Australian South Sea Pearling Industry is innovative, re-emergent and is embracing the rarity of Australian South Sea Pearls.

Over the weekend (12 November 2016) the Wall Street Journal ran the story on its website For Australia’s Pearl Farmers, the Wild Is Their Oyster.

The story (written by WSJ journalist Vera Sprothen) that charters the journey of the pearling industry over the past few years, and with a point of view that is both refreshing and rare, celebrates quality and rarity in favour of quantity and mass production:


The WSJ website also features a video that supplements the story above (click here to view it):

The video is high quality and augmented with footage from the recent National Geographic/Paspaley production “The Secret Life of Pearls.” Again it refreshingly provides some welcomed clarity with respect to an industry that isn’t well know. What is more it provides some astonishing truths about the industry in a global context:

Australia is the last place in the world where pearls are cultured in wild oysters. They are handpicked from the ocean floor by divers…”

In the last few years china has taken over the global market with cheap mass produced freshwater pearls. A single mussel, often cultivated in flooded rice paddies, can yield as many as 50 pearls, whereas a[n Australian] south sea oyster grows just one.”

Experts say that the quality of cheap pearls is proving every year. However, unlike [Australian] south sea pearls, the Chinese ones are irregularly shaped and bleached with chemicals to give them a white gloss.”

[I note that with respect to pearl quality and rarity, one chinese pearl jewellery producer points out in the video when referring to a pearl strand: “This is a big size south sea pearl from Australia. This is the perfect pearl. In every piece the colours match, the surface is very clean and the size is very big.

The video notes a sea-change in approaches by the Australian pearling industry.  The industry is innovating and branching out into the ability for consumers to feel the pearling experience, to bring the consumer closer even insofar as they can see the “grunt behind the glamour.”  The Australian Industry is also embracing their demonstrable sustainability, their harvest of wild oysters by hand, their gentle touch and minimal interaction with the environment and the harmony that is created between the pearl producer and the untamed waters of the Kimberley which is perfectly encapsulated in an Australian South Sea Pearl.

Personally I enjoyed the story. I look forward to the Australian South Sea Pearling Industry to continue to make their global mark.

“All the Glistens is not Gold”: In a World first Australian South Sea Pearls to undergo Assessment against the MSC Standard

 I note that they [the Australian Pearling Industry] are due for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification – which would certainly make Australian South Sea Pearls the ethical and responsible environmental choice … and make rare Australian pearls rarer still.



New Zealand the 9th State to ratify the FAO Port State Measures Agreement


New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy today announced that the New Zealand Government has ratified the 2009 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing; an agreement designed to fight illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

The objective (Article 2) of the PSM Agreement is to:

Prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing through the implementation of effective port State measures, and thereby to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of living marine resources and marine ecosystems.”

To view the a PDF of the PSM Agreement click this hyperlink.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO):

The Agreement envisages that parties, in their capacities as port States, will apply the Agreement in an effective manner to foreign vessels when seeking entry to ports or while they are in port. The application of the measures set out in the Agreement will, inter alia, contribute to harmonized port State measures, enhanced regional and international cooperation and block the flow of IUU-caught fish into national and international markets. The Agreement will enter into force 30 days after the deposit of the 25th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. The Agreement is binding and stipulates minimum port States measures. However, countries are free to adopt more stringent measures than those outlined in the Agreement.”

New Zealand is the ninth country to ratify the  Port State Measures (PSM) Agreement, which requires 25 ratifications to come into force. So far only eight other states that ratified the PSM Agreement. These States are:

      • Myanmar – (November 22, 2010)
      • Sri Lanka – (January 20, 2011)
      • European Union – (July 7, 2011)
      • Norway – (July 20, 2011)
      • Chile – (August 28, 2012)
      • Uruguay – (February 28, 2013)
      • Seychelles –  (June 19, 2013)
      • Oman – (August 1, 2013)
      • Gabon – (November 15, 2013)

The FAO’s PSM Agreement sets minimum standards for port access by foreign flagged fishing vessels and related support vessels. Adopted in 2009 by the U.N. FAO, the treaty requires parties to exert greater port controls on foreign-flagged vessels, and as a result to keep IUU fish out of the world’s markets by removing incentives for the practice of IUU fishing to continue.

According to a press release by the New Zealand Government, Murray McCully (New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs) said that:

Widespread implementation of the agreement would make it more difficult and less economic to undertake illegal fishing… It would mean New Zealand fishers could operate in high-value international fisheries with less threat of illegal fishers, while ensuring sustainability of the oceans…. 

New Zealand has been at the forefront of international efforts to combat IUU fishing. Ratifying this agreement further cements our commitment.”

Nathan Guy (New Zealand Minister for Primary Industries) said that:

“For New Zealand, it [ the ratification of the PSM Agreement] will mean our fishers can operate in high value international fisheries with less threat of IUU fishers, while ensuring sustainability of our oceans…

Supporting an international framework that enables long-term sustainable use of fisheries resources is important for New Zealand.”

Essentially as the New Zealand Herald so aptly put it,

The Government has signed up to an international fisheries agreement which could [enable it to] block illegal fishers from using New Zealand ports.”

A chase at sea near South Korea: an entire fleet of illegal Chinese fishing vessels attempts to evade the South Korean Coast Guard. Source: World Ocean Review (

A chase at sea near South Korea: an entire fleet of illegal Chinese fishing vessels attempts to evade the South Korean Coast Guard.
Source: World Ocean Review (

Walmart says it will begin accepting seafood certification programmes other than the Marine Stewardship Council


I just read in the Guardian what I honestly thought might have occurred 4 months ago….

Walmart says it will begin accepting seafood certified programmes other than the Marine Stewardship Council.”

Is it true? Have Walmart done an about turn on something they vilified just a year ago? Has Walmart just made an about face accepting the sustainability certification based on the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (COCRF)? I wasn’t sure I was reading correctly until my colleague sent me an email that with the dismissively cool subject title “Walmart accepts RFM standard” and an attached PDF of an article from Intrafish “Walmart: ASMI-backed program meets sourcing guidelines.” But the ‘coolness’ and lack of comment spoke volumes… We both have been following the intrigue and we both know the symbolism embedded in Walmart’s announcement.

So I don’t have to pinch myself… its true… here is some further evidence of its veracity:

On Thursday (23 January 2014) almost 4 months after acknowledging the kinks in its sustainable seafood sourcing policy at a US Senate hearing, Walmart’s Vice President of meat and seafood, David Baskin, announced that Walmart (the world’s largest retailer) had decided to expand its sustainable seafood policy (SSP) to include certification programmes other than the Marine Stewardship Council. Prior to the revision of the SSP the the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) backed Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM)  certification programme was problematic for Walmart, who announced in 2013 that it would have to stop stocking Alaska seafood if it didn’t meet the MSC sustainable fisheries standard.

The progress towards Walmart’s sustainable seafood sourcing policy has been a slow one, with strong pressure being exerted by eNGOs who have undertaken to walk away from Walmart’s sustainability programme [NGOs push walmart to defy congress]. On the other hand, it is arguable that this call to defy congress, is nothing more than final push by the eNGOs who could see the recognition of the RFM by Walmart as inevitable after the United States General Services Administration (GSA) wrote MSC out of their sustainable sourcing policy in September 2013.

In an earlier post I quoted from a letter from GSA’s David Blue to US Senator Murkowski:

GSA’s believes that American managed fisheries do not require third-party certification to demonstrate responsible and sustainable practices.  GSA and HHS designed the Guidelines to make healthy choices more accessible and appealing.  We intended the Guideline’s citation of third-party certification organizations to serve as helpful examples for potential bidders, not as eliminating factors.  Our goal was to broaden choices, not to restrict options.”

In my mind this revision by GSA was the first indication that MSC’s prominent position as the principal market access gatekeeper was being eroded. The revision of the Walmart SSP goes further; by recognising the RFM programme as an acceptable third-party sustainable certification standard, it paves the way for viable market access alternatives to MSC.  In this way the revision of the SSP by Walmart has the potential to have far reaching effects for the sustainable certification of seafood worldwide. The initial effect of this announcement is that Walmart can continue to stock Alaska seafood in accordance with its SSP.

The revised policy provides for the inclusion of a management programme that accords with the Principles of Credible Sustainability Programs developed by The Sustainability Consortium (TSC). It must be noted that acceptance by the TSC may be subject to a third party review. So acceptance is not assured. However, initially the Walmart SSP  stipulated that  all fresh and frozen, farmed and wild seafood suppliers to source from fisheries who are:

What are the short-term and long term effects?

Alaskan Airline's Wild Alaskan Salmon 737 - Note the Alaskan Fisheries Marketing Board Logo just below the Captain's side window.

Alaskan Airline’s Wild Alaskan Salmon 737 – Note the Alaskan Fisheries Marketing Board Logo just below the Captain’s side window. Source:

According to who quoted ASMI Communications Director, Tyson Fick:

The decision comes as vindication of Alaska’s seafood sustainability process. This isn’t just about salmon, it’s about RFM certified seafood like Pollock, cod, halibut, crab, and more.”

And Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich (chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard):

This is why I’m pleased that they have finally come full circle with a full reversal of their sustainability policies … to purchase Alaska seafood

So first hats off to Walmart!!!

Just like the ASMI they are trail blazing! And trail blazers are fabulous aren’t they?

Walmart deserve recognition as trail blazers because, not only did they soak up to the pressure; they had faith in seafood professionals who implement progress before PR, who put in the work to make sure their harvest is responsible and that their resource endurable. But mostly they deserve the trail blazer tag because of their acceptance of the RFM as a legitimate and acceptable seafood certification programme, even though the RFM is a sustainability programme that is outside environmental NGO sphere of influence. This is a move that cannot be under-estimated given that for the past decade environmental NGOs like WWF, have been (at least in fact) the self-imposed “what is sustainable and what is not sustainable” gate keepers. This position as market access gatekeepers has been a lucrative cashcow for a number of eNGOs who have built ticket clipping consultancy businesses around demonstrating sustainable sourcing. I am happy to see this position being abraded… I for one do not equate eNGOs with commercial consultancy.

In my opinion:

The acceptance of the RFM by Walmart is a step into the future… where primary producers will demonstrate the responsibility, the endurability and yes, the sustainability of their harvested resource, and where in consideration of the demonstration retailers will stock it and sell it to their customers…

This recognition of the Alaskan Responsible Fisheries (RFM) certification programme by Walmart is courageous, it will no doubt attract some flack from the media and eNGOs (who are no doubt very aware of the symbolism of the RFM recognition). But us netizens… as shoppers of sustainable seafood, as quid pro quo for Walmart’s bravado, should blaze a trail with our dollars and embrace Walmart’s purchasing policy.

Sadly I am unable to purchase seafood in Walmart today… But I am not based in the USA nor in a country with a Walmart. So please go give Walmart a pecuniary high five on my behalf… and have some salmon for dinner. ^^

Maui’s Dolphin Population Status: giving facts a helping hand – a Guest post by Hasile


GFBF’s guest poster Hasile is very interested in the plight of the New Zealand Maui’s dolphin, of which there are an estimated 55 individuals left.

For some the jury is still out on whether Maui’s dolphins constitute a new species, a sub-species, or simply an extant population isolated from the other more common South Island Hector’s dolphins. For others whether or not the Maui’s population constitutes a distinct species is an irrelevant consideration… It is accepted by all that the population is distinct, and it is critically endangered to the point where extinction is imminent if something drastic is not done.

According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC):

Maui’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori mauiis the world’s smallest dolphin and is found only on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. It is New Zealand’s rarest dolphin […]

In 2012 a DOC-commissioned study estimated the Maui’s dolphin population to consist of 55 with a 95% confidence interval of between 48 to 69. The estimate is for individuals aged more than 1 year (i.e. this excludes calves of under a year). This small population of dolphins is thought to have been isolated from their more-numerous relatives, South Island Hector’s dolphin, for thousands of years. Maui’s dolphin used to be known as North Island Hector’s dolphin. But research showed the North and South Island dolphins are separate sub-species that are physically and genetically distinct from each other.”

However like so many critical situations the search consensus on a way forward with respect to saving the Maui’s dolphin has been hindered, by politics, finger-pointing, and mistrust. I highlighted in a previous post in April last year (Maui’s Dolphins: Swimming in a sea of all sorts of mischief?) that the plight of the Maui’s dolphin has seen

“...sustained pressure on the Government by eNGOs,the Media, the public and of course opposition politicians who are  using the campaign as leverage to garner political points at the expense of the Government. This pressure has been squarely placed on the Commercial Fishing Industry, who beset on all sides by sectors pointing accusatory fingers, protest their perceived culpability.”

Often the campaign has been theatrical… There was even a funeral march in 2012… where protestors marched through the Auckland Electorate of  Kumeu-Huapai to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key’s electorate office in Helensville demanding urgent action to save the Maui’s dolphin. The Rodney Times reported that the “mourners” included Rodney Labour candidate and former Rodney and Auckland Regional Council representative Christine Rose of Huapai who has long used the issue of protection of the critically endangered dolphin as political leverage.

According to Hasile central figures have manipulated scientific data for the purpose of controlling the debate. In an Article (below) sent to GFBF in December 2012 Hasile charters the statistical drift of the Maui’s dolphin scientific information.

A visual education tool about the state of the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin and fishing-related threat management options currently under review by the NZ Ministry of Primary Resources.  Source:

A visual education tool about the state of the critically endangered Maui’s Dolphin and fishing-related threat management options currently under review by the NZ Ministry of Primary Resources. CLICK TO VIEW EDUCATION TOOL. Source:

A Case of Giving Facts on Maui’s Dolphin a Helping Hand (by Hasile)

Cephalorhynchus hectori. Photograph by James Shook. Source: Wiki Commons

Cephalorhynchus hectori. Photograph by James Shook.
Source: Wiki Commons

Increasingly, as technology becomes more sophisticated, reliable and adaptable, the terms of access to natural resources should be ideally based on robust and coherent science on the effects of that extraction. 

Unfortunately, there is an apparent trend, based variously on academic niche and security, international scientific status, ideological attitudes to humanity’s place on the planet, the need to simplify and generalise for popular opinion and a central belief that commercial use of any and every resource inevitably leads to its overexploitation and environmental degradation.

This trend can lead to scientific literature which is less reliable than it ought to be.

The Background of Otago University’s Liz Slooten

Dr. Liz Slooten, an Otago University professor of Zoology, called for greater supervision aboard trawling boats. “The numbers of observers on the boats are far too low.” Source: See

An article in Endangered Species Research by Elisabeth Slooten could be a case where factors have led to a mismatch of the empirical data with the conclusions reached.  Dr Slooten argues that data shows what is unquestionably a severely endangered animal sub-species is not only under threat from fishing activities, but that threat has increased over the years, rather than diminished.

Dr Slooten has devoted most of her professional life to the study of Hector’s dolphins.  It is no exaggeration that she was traumatised seeing the effects on the Hector’s dolphins of the introduction of monofilament nets some decades ago.

The 1 August 2012 issue of Life and Leisure retells, in almost folk lore terms, how she spent half of 1984 on a VW Kombi van tour of the South Island coast in search of Hector’s dolphins with Steve Dawson.  She is quoted at her first sight of a Hector’s as, “A sort of ‘Dr Livingstone I presume’ moment.”

Dr Slooten is an Associate Professor in the Zoology Department at Otago University and is described by the University as ‘the foremost authority’ on Hector’s (Cephalorhynchus hectori) and Maui’s subspecies (C. hectori maui).’ She teaches ecology, statistics, risk analysis and a MSc course on marine mammals. She and Dr Dawson have supervised several MSc and PhD projects on the species. They have published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications.

In 1992, Drs Slooten and Dawson launched the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust for research and conservation. In 2004, they were awarded the Royal Society’s Sir Charles Fleming Award for their contribution to conservation science.

The University of Otago website states Dr Slooten ‘represents New Zealand at the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission’ and that she, and Dr Dawson, are ‘members of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group and regularly advise government.’

Dr Slooten predicts an international trade boycott of New Zealand seafood products, if the restrictions on fishing in what she claims are Maui’s dolphin sub-species habitats, are not increased.  In the Taranaki Daily News on 17th July 2012 she said,

Logically it doesn’t make sense for people to boycott hoki, for instance, because dolphins aren’t being killed in the hoki industry but that is the next step.  Do we want to be seen as dolphin killers overseas?

She also told BBCNews on 10th June 2013;

If Maui’s dolphins went extinct that would be very bad in terms of our international reputation.  Obviously New Zealand is known as a clean green country and that reputation is very important to exports, to tourism and in general to our international reputation.

Dr Slooten has written and expressed views on sea mammals other than dolphins. The Final Advice Paper on New Zealand Sea Lions by DOC and MPI in 2012, was critical of Dr Slooten’s suggestions for measuring the frequency of sea lion captures in Sea Lion Escape Devices by blocking their escape, stating;

 The Ministry does not support the proposal advanced by Elisabeth Slooten to cover the escape hole of SLEDs. This would need to be conducted over several years to get a robust estimate of strike rate and would result in deliberate drowning of sea lions.

In April 2013, Otago University Press published Drs Slooten and Dawson’s book, Dolphins Down Under: Understanding the New Zealand DolphinThis book is a dolphin watcher’s handbook, complete with photos of Hector’s Dolphins at Banks Peninsular, which she named ‘Zorro’, Huffer’, Biggus Nickus’ and ‘Rooster’.

In December 2013 Dr Slooten chaired the Organising Committee of the 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, which was hosted by Otago University.  These conferences are rarely held outside North America. Dr Dawson chaired the Scientific Programme Committee and Dr Slooten was also on that committee. Dr. Slooten and Dawson delivered a keynote presentation on the conference opening morning, ‘A flagship of NZ conservation is foundering’.

Dolphin Reproduction Research

Cover of Raewyn Peart's 2013 book 'The Dolphins of Aotearoa' Source:

Cover of Raewyn Peart’s 2013 book ‘The Dolphins of Aotearoa’

The Otago University promotion of ‘Dolphins Down Under: Understanding the New Zealand Dolphin’ stated that Dr Slooten ‘researches and publishes on reproductive and population biology…’

A review of Dr Slooten’s papers on Hector’s type dolphins, as listed by Otago University on its website, nonetheless does not reveal publications exhibiting this expertise in any but a most limited sense.  This work, listed as published since 2006, is confined to various forms of observation which avoids actual or protracted contact with the dolphins.

The limits to what is acceptable and relevant science on Hector’s dolphin in New Zealand appear to have thus been set by its most prominent researcher.  For example, in ‘Dolphins Down Under’ (page 63) Dr Slooten objects to satellite tagging Hector’s type dolphins, on the basis that such attaching such tags would alter their behaviour and also would endanger the dolphins. She added that such tagging was unnecessary anyway, given that that she knows and can recognise all of the Hector’s dolphins around Banks Peninsular.

In Raewyn Peart’s 2013 book ‘Dolphins of Aotearoa’ she writes (page 254) that Drs Slooten and Dawson in 2003 opposed the use of satellite tags on Maui’s since it was ‘intrusive’.

The only exception to non-intrusive observation research currently into the Hector’s species in New Zealand is laboratory analysis of the DNA composition of individuals of the species, with skin samples being darted off the dolphins.  The lure of producing interesting pie graphs in learned papers on genetic variation among the Hectors and Maui’s, was obviously too much, even for Dr Slooten to prevent.

The DNA work by itself has some interest in establishing; individual identification, whether Hector’s and Maui’s breed, population spread or whether there is sufficient genetic diversity to prevent inbreeding depression.  The work though is largely of academic interest and has, at best, a marginal utility of actually being used to protect the species from decline or extinction.

Investigations into the nature, identification and duration of Hector’s dolphin oestrus for example, which would be a vital precursor to assisted reproduction of Maui’s dolphins, have not been carried out. The viewpoint of New Zealand’s announced foremost expert on such dolphins, is that such research is neither necessary nor acceptable.

Indeed Dr Barbara Maas, the London based Head of International Species for NABU International, mocked the idea of assisted reproduction in her presentation on Hector’s type dolphins at the Marine Mammal Conference in Dunedin, though she provided neither reasons nor basis for her derision.

DNA Evidence of Distribution

In the Taranaki Daily News on 20th July 2012, Liz Slooten, wrote that the southernmost confirmed sighting of a Maui’s dolphin was one from which a biopsy sample was taken in Wellington Harbour.

Ten days later, on 30th July, Scott Gallacher, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries, replied in the same publication, writing  that there were claims made by ‘some commentators’,  about Maui’s dolphins that were ‘misleading or incorrect’. He referred to the Wellington biopsy sample and pointed out,

The only biopsy sample taken from a dolphin in Wellington Harbour was that of a Hector’s, and that happened in 2009.”

Indeed Dr Slooten is justified in acknowledging the existence of such biopsy samples – there is even a Maui’s sample taken in Wellington which may have been collected  back in 1873.

Fishing and Dolphins

Fishing Vessels docked at the Tauranga Waterfront, New Zealand. Source QFSE Media, Wiki Commons

Fishing Vessels docked at the Tauranga Waterfront, New Zealand. Source QFSE Media, Wiki Commons

In the Endangered Species Research article Dr Slooten analyses the efficacy of restrictions on fishing on the three populations of Hector’s dolphins Cephalorhynchus hectori in South Island waters and that of the Maui’s subspecies C. hectori maui which inhabits an indeterminate range (albeit with a well-known core) in the waters off the west coast of the North Island.

Dr Slooten refers to the Maui’s habitat as WCNI (West Coast North Island).  Four of South Island originating Hector’s, two alive and two dead, have been identified in recent years within the Maui’s population in West Coast North Island (WCNI).  Thus Cephalorhynchus found off the West Coast of the North Island are not all Maui’s.

Marine Mammal Sanctuaries. The marine mammal sanctuaries layer has been updated to include the marine mammal sanctuaries (as they were legislated in October 2008).

Marine Mammal Sanctuaries. The marine mammal sanctuaries layer has been updated to include the marine mammal sanctuaries (as they were legislated in October 2008).

Dr Slooten’s position is clear.  She states that she believes that “bycatch in fisheries is the most serious threat to both species, (sic) …

However her views on the efficacy of banning fishing, to save Maui’s from extinction, are ambivalent.  She was cited, 30, April 2012, as stating,

…natural processes could take them away. If we stopped catching them in fishing nets tomorrow we would still hold our breath … so we really need to pull out all the stops or soon we’ll go past the point of no return.”

She details the introduction of various targeted fishing area restriction measures in the years since 1988 and finds favour with the results.  But she still asserts that the overall New Zealand Cephalorhynchus population is in decline. In relation to by catch of Hector’s species in the period since 2008, she states,

Formal and informal reports from the fishing industry include NZ dolphin deaths on the SCSI and WCNI”.

This implies a plural culpability in both areas.

According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) Hector’s dolphin incident database; in which any formal report would be displayed, there have been five Hector’s type dolphins found and examined in the period since 2008 on the West Coast of the North Island (WCNI).  The post mortems for four of the dolphins describe no indications of fishing being the cause of death.  There is only one fatality attributed to fishing recorded – that of the Hector’s type taken by fisherman Ian McDougall off Cape Egmont in January 2012.

So the Slooten statement, based on one capture, is technically correct.  There has been one formal report of a Hector’s type dolphin killed by fishing in the WCNI since 2008.

In ‘Dolphins Down Under: Understanding the New Zealand Dolphin’ (page 70) Dr Slooten’s inclination to expand a singular event into a whole series of occurrences can be seen when she states that there have been recent ‘sightings and deaths in gillnets off the Taranaki coastline’.  There certainly have been many sightings along this coast, and other coasts.  DOC encourages these reports.

But [one fact remains], other than the one in 2012, there have been no mortalities which could be [directly] attributed to fishing recorded in Taranaki waters for nearly a quarter of a century.

Use of DoC Data on Fishing Induced Mortality Maui’s Dolphins

Maui's dolphin extinction scenario - Under current protection levels, Maui’s dolphins will become practically extinct by 2030 as a result of fishing. Green bars: Historic population status, orange bars: prognosis at an annual decline of 9% due to fishing. Source:

Maui’s dolphin extinction scenario – Under current protection levels, Maui’s dolphins will become practically extinct by 2030 as a result of fishing. Green bars: Historic population status, orange bars: prognosis at an annual decline of 9% due to fishing.

In Endangered Species Research (Page 126), Dr Slooten, explains (under the subtitle of ‘Strandings and reported bycatch’) that she is using information from ‘the DOC’s database (database) of strandings and bycatch’, mainatining that the value of the information on the database as ‘at best, a qualitative (i.e. theoretical) indication of dolphin mortality’.  This is a sound reservation.

However at page 127, she refers to the same ‘qualitative’ information:

“In the far north and far south, bycatch increased slightly over time. For WCNI, there was 1.00 dolphin death (sic) yr from 1970 to 2008 and 1.33 dolphin deaths yr from 2009 to 2012.  The protected area off the WCNI was originally put in place in 2003.  Therefore it is useful to compare the periods before and after 2003.  Again, an average of 1.00 dolphin deaths yr from 1970 to 2002, increases slightly to 1.11 yr from 2003 to 2012.”

This paragraph is problematic.  Either Dr Slooten is misrepresenting the figures of deaths attributed to fishing by DOC in its database;  or, she is, without clearly stating this, assuming and conveying that all reported Maui’s dolphin mortality through the years is attributable to fishing activity.

First, lets look at the empirical evidence of Maui’s dolphin fishing caused mortality. The DOC database has reported up to quarterly in detail since 1st July 2008.  It reports by possible cause of death, but not by date, for the period 1921 – 19th March 2008. It reports five WCNI mortalities since 1 July 2008, and 40 in the period 1921 – 19th March 2008. Furthermore of these five dolphin mortalities since 1st July 2008, only one, the Ian McDougall capture in January 2012, is attributed as a fishing caused mortality. Of the other four, two were Hector’s and two were Maui’s.

Of course, it is not only possible, but likely in earlier instances, that there was some fishing mortality which was not attributed.  Thus, quite correctly, Dr Slooten acknowledges her analysis to be qualitive only.

Conversely it should also be noted that the mortalities listed as attributed to fishing, may in fact not be due to fishing at all, since DOC describes some as these as ‘fishing’ being only the ‘possible’ cause.

Of the total of 40, in the period 1921 – 2008, only five mortalities in WCNI are described as showing signs of fishing being the cause of death. They are variously listed as; ‘net marks – not determinate’, ‘possible entanglement’ (2X), ‘probable entanglement’ and ‘known entanglement’.

The DOC/MPI Sept 2012 Consultation Paper (Paper) states six such mortalities, with three stated as ‘known entanglements’ including the Ian McDougall capture in 2012.

The Paper’s total of 46 mortalities 1921 – 2012 is inconsistent with the database which also lists 46 mortalities, but database includes one beachcast off Dargaville in 2013 and so not on the Paper list.

Neither the database nor the Paper break down the 1921 – 2008 tally by years, only possible causes of mortality, and so, from either the online DOC incident database or Consultation Paper, any sub periods of 1921 to 2008 cannot be compared directly with the year groupings of Dr Slooten’s figures.

In contrast any figures Dr Slooten uses between 2008 and 2013 can be directly compared with the public DOC site database.

However the information is even more confused with DOC providing to some parties a more detailed list (list) of the pre 1st July 2008 mortality, including the dates of mortalities against possible causes of death.  The list allows for a direct comparison of Dr Slooten’s figures prior to 2008 with those DOC has. The additional list discloses, for instance, that the first possibly fishing attributed mortality was in 1997, a ‘possible entanglement’. Presumably Dr Slooten has this list.  She would need it, or a similar source, to be able to identify breakdowns by different year groups prior to 2008, though she makes no mention of doing do.

The data from all three DOC sources is adopted in the table below, with the list derived data used for groups of years to provide the comparison with the Slooten figures.  Prior to 1970 there were four mortalities reported on the list.  For the period 2003 – 2008, where the list contains six entries, there are no fishing related deaths.

However the list, while detailed, is complicated. It includes an auxiliary  tally, citing 44 mortalities 1921 – 2012, against the on-line database list of 45 (plus one in 2013) and the Paper’s 46 for the same 1921 – 2012 period. These discrepancies in these data from DOC, have nothing but a marginal bearing on the inaccuracy or otherwise of the use of any or all DOC data by Dr Slooten.  She has only stated one source of her figures, that which is, ironically, the lowest of the three DOC totals.

Dr Slooten has set out various periods between 1970 and 2012.  This removes four of the pre 1970 deaths listed on the DOC list.

WCNI Hector’s type dolphin mortality, and mortality attributed to fishing; by DOC and by Slooten 1970 - 2012

WCNI Hector’s type dolphin mortality, and mortality attributed to fishing; by DOC and by Slooten 1970 – 2012

Apart from the matter of how the total of a 43 year period could include a decimal point, let alone two, the Slooten figures for the two time breakdowns closely agree; at 44.3 apparently fishing related deaths from 1970 to 2012 when divided at 2002-03, and 44.32 when the tally is divided at 2008-09.

They nonetheless exceed all of DOC’s on line database register estimations, the additional more detailed list and the discussion paper tally, whether counting total deaths, or the ones Dr Slooten may be attributing to fishing.

All three DOC sources produce a tally of potentially fishing related mortality since 1970 as six.  Dr Slooten appears to state the tally is 33.

The DOC data describes 10 Hector’s type dolphin deaths on WCNI in the ten years 2003 – 2012 from all causes.  Of these, DOC attributes only one mortality to fishing and that one was well outside the restricted fishing zone and by MPI’s admission was ‘about as likely as not’ to have been a Hector’s in the Discussion Paper.

It is possible that Dr Slooten relies on the ‘open’ diagnosis in the post mortems as displayed on the database for two Hector’s type, (November 2010 and October 2011) as suspect fishing mortalities.  However the post mortems as specific as to the lack of fishing by-catch injury and are open in their conclusions simply over disease analysis which has now been carried out though not entered in to the incident database.

In contrast, to this DOC figure of one, Dr Slooten appears to claim 11.1 deaths of Hector’s type from fishing in the ten year period 2003 – 2012.

A proposition that Dr Slooten is trying to cite by-catch deaths, and not all reported deaths, is therefore completely unsubstantiated by the data.

Astonishing as it is, this is the clear interpretation put upon Dr Slooten’s paper by Dr Barbara Maas, in her submission to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, ‘Science-based management of New Zealand’s Maui’s dolphins – Scientific paper for IWC’, SC/65a/SMO6′.

Dr Maas states, at page 4 of the report,

“Since the 2008 protection measures were introduced, the number of stranded and reported bycatch cases has increased slightly (Slooten 2013). Between 1970 and 2008 an average of 1.00 entangled Maui’s dolphin was recorded per year. This figure increased marginally to 1.33 dolphin deaths per annum between 2009 and 2012.”

Accordingly, a maximum of six Maui’s deaths since 1970, for which evidence held by DOC exists, that the dolphin is both Maui’s and fishing might be responsible for its death, is now reported by Dr Maas to the IWC as a total of at least 52 Maui’s deaths confirmed as caused by fishing in the same period.

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Reblog from Searunner: Trash Fish; The answer or the last resort?


I read this recent post by searunner and really enjoy the tack it took… Such that I thought I’d reblog it.

Searunner Defines ‘trash fish‘ as “fish that were traditionally considered unpalatable, unfit for human consumption, or otherwise having no market value” and proposes that there is a “trend in commercial fishing today to move away from overfished species, and to start targeting fish that have previously had no market.”

This trend is important both ecologically and economically as it enables seafood producers to derive benefit of species that would otherwise be discarded, and provides for a reprieve in the harvest of key market species… until they can sustain catches. However this utilisation of trash fish has an air of transience about it…

The utilisation of trash species until key species are able to be re-utilised

In today’s world of over 7 billion people… protein derived from seafood is vital… but as demand on seafood resources increases, so does pressure on seafood stocks… We need a paradigm shift. We need to diversify our palate and fish widely, rather than intensively. So I agree with searunner here but with one addition…

We need to implement this ecological and economic life raft permanently, rather than just move from one species to another as we have done throughout the ages in response to changes in specific abundance:

“... Luxury seafoods like lobster and oysters were once fed to prisoners and slaves, only until their populations began dwindling did they become more expensive and gain their spot on the menus of high priced restaurants.”

we need to erode the distinction between “trash” and “key” species altogether and move on from merely marketing the lesser utilised species as a legitimate seafood choice for consumers, and fully integrate ‘trash’ species’ into our seafood repertoire . 

Imagine the consequences of this integration… I am!

More food, more choice, improved food security and reduced impact on the key market species.


434662467_b3fec00605_bIf you’re finding this article, you likely know what a ‘trash fish’ is.  Trash fish can be defined in a few different ways, but the trash fish I’d like to refer to here are fish that were traditionally considered unpalatable, unfit for human consumption, or otherwise having no market value.  There is a trend in commercial fishing today to move away from overfished species, and to start targeting fish that have previously had no market.  This trend isn’t necessarily born out of a desire to move towards sustainable fisheries, but instead it’s born out of the fact that there aren’t enough traditional market fish left in the ocean to make a living on.

“History is repeating itself, and what’s needed is an overall reduction in fishing pressure, not just a move to fishing for different species.”

Fishermen, restaurants, seafood distributors, and some environmental groups are working to develop new markets…

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Alaska: According to US consumers Alaska is setting the gold-standard for sustainable seafood


I just read in Seafood News something I never thought I’d see a year or so ago – especially after the criticism of Global Trust and their application of fisheries standard based on U.N. FAO standards (Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) programme), which was embraced by ASMI as a viable alternative to MSC certification see report by the Environmental Law Institute that described the RFM program as industry developed and controlled) –According to Laine Welch on Alaska Fish Radio with Laine Welch [10 January, 2014 ] Alaska is setting the “gold-standard for sustainable seafood.”

A Salmon Fishing Bear, Alaska.  Photo Source: (Common Myths about Alaska, 29 Oct 2008)

A Salmon Fishing Bear, Alaska.
Photo Source: (Common Myths about Alaska, 29 Oct 2008)

According to Laine Welch:

Wal-Mart reps are in Juneau this week to learn more about Alaska’s salmon management, to make sure it’s up to snuff with the company’s sustainability criteria. Alaska opted out of the high priced Marine Stewardship Council eco-label which Wal-Mart uses as its purchasing standard. Alaska instead adopted the UN’s Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) program for sustainability certification.

Meanwhile, a nationwide poll of more than 1,000 U.S. seafood consumers revealed strong support for Alaska as the gold-standard of healthy, sustainable seafood. In a survey last month by the Washington, DC-based Prime Group, 66 percent rated the quality of Alaska seafood as very high, and a whopping 97 percent viewed it as more or as sustainable than other seafood. Alaska caught seafood is preferred to Russian caught by 87 percent to one. Forty percent of those surveyed said they prefer certification based on UN standards versus only 19 percent based on standards set by a ‘private, nonprofit organization.’ Thirty one percent had no preference. When asked about characteristics that might justify a 10% price premium, caught in the wild got a 46 percent rating, certified sustainable was at 40 percent and Alaska-caught garnered 36 percent of the responses. And 53% disapproved of the MSC policy of approving fisheries that are on a path to sustainability.

The nationwide poll was commissioned by “Alaska Salmon Now” – a grassroots group of Alaska fishing families and US consumers pressuring Wal-Mart to fully embrace Alaska salmon. Wal-Mart appears poised to do so.”

(See the full survey at

Alaskan Wild Salmon Marketing Poster

Alaskan Wild Salmon Marketing Poster

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New Zealand to install cameras on board all fishing vessels and implement Precision Seafood Harvesting (PSH) within 2 years


According to the New Zealand Herald (Steve Deane – Ministry unveils cameras to prevent dumping of fish 26 Nov. 2013) the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries unveiled new technology designed to prevent fish dumping by the country’s commercial fishing fleet will be unveiled today.

This ‘new technology’, essentially on-board surveillance cameras are to be made mandatory by October 2015 under changes to the regulation of the New Zealand (Northern Snapper fishery (SNA1). The surveillance technology will be used to monitor the on-board activities of fishermen. Two surveillance cameras were installed on the Aotearoa Fisheries vessel the FV Corinthian. According to the FV Corinthian skipper Flea Reid the camera don’t bother him.

The Minister for Primary Industries told that (Snapper 1 Commercial fishing to be monitored):

This programme will provide greater information on the total commercial catch, particularly on the numbers of small snapper being caught and the size, age, location and timing of commercial catch generally… The information will provide the public and recreational fishers with greater reassurance that commercial fishers are following the rules. In general most are, but it will now be much tougher to break the law and get away with it… I’m very pleased that the fishing industry are also developing a ‘move on’ rule where fishers will have to move on from a fishing spot if too many juvenile fish are being caught.” also reports that work is also underway on introducing mandatory vessel monitoring systems on all commercial vessels by 1 October 2014, and a $7 million scientific tagging survey will be introduced by 1 October 2014.

TV3 Video: Cameras installed on trawlers to stop fish dumping (Click to view video)

TV3 Video: Cameras installed on trawlers to stop fish dumping (Click to view video)

With respect to SNA1, according to Steve Deane this monitoring programme – which will see 25 per cent of the trawl fleet have cameras or observers on board by 1 December, rising to 50 per cent by October 1, 2014 and 100 per cent by 1 October, 2015 – is part of a range of initiatives announced by the Minister for Primary Industries which will address issues of wastage, primarily the unlawful discard of by-catch and high grading.

The practice of high grading is the return of small but legal-sized fish into the sea, and the retaining only of larger fish.

These new measures that are being implemented are part of the new rules that are being imposed to maintain the Northern Snapper (SNA1) stocks. These rules also includes new bag limits and minimum sizes for Recreational fishers. Recreational fishers’ daily bag limit for SNA1 snapper is being reduced from nine fish to seven, and the minimum size will increase from 27 to 30 centimetres.

As one can imagine this has gone down like a lead balloon. According to the New Zealand Herald recreational fishing lobby group Legasea has welcomed moves to reduce commercial waste but rues the decision to leave commercial catch limits and sizes where they are, and impose restrictions instead on recreational fishers in the SNA1 area.

Steve Deane quotes the Legase national programme leader Mandy Kupenga:

It’s taken more than 30 years to get recognition of this issue and a plan to address this waste… If Mr Guy’s [Minister for Primary Industries] proposed initiatives are implemented thoroughly it will make a significant impact on rebuilding the fish stocks… However, the decision to leave the commercial size limit at 25cm and leave the commercial quota untouched while adjusting both the size and bag limits for recreational fishers was disappointing.”

Initially a Ministry for Primary Industries Initial Position Paper (IPP) recommended a decrease of the recreational bag limit to three fish. This proposal created a huge public response, with more than 49,000 submissions made on the IPP.

What’s GFBF’s Point?

I for one support the measures being implemented (and would have liked to have seen an even smaller bag limit for recreational fishers as arguable 7 is still too many). Recreational fishers (especially in SNA1) are very apt to blame commercial fishing for any sustainability concerns – lauding the usual refrain:

They take too much!”

But actually the reality in the SNA1 (Auckland) area is very different. This can be seen in the Annual TAC and the TACC.

For the 2012 year the Ministry for Primary Industries set a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 7,550 tonnes of Snapper for SNA1 per year. This TACC includes:

  • a Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) of 4500 tonnes; and
  • a Recreational Catch Allowance of 2,600 tonnes (this is a colossal portion of the TAC). My question is this – how is this Recreational Catch Allowance of 2,600 tonnes policed? Well I can answer – Its not really!

Auckland (the City of Sails) is crammed with recreation boats and with them recreational fishers. according to the New Zealand Herald there are around 135,000 boats registered in Auckland.

Just imagine if only 25% of all the registered boats in Auckland go fishing for snapper 3 times a month with a bag limit of 9? That equates to

  • 33,750 boats looking for snapper 3 times a month.
  • 101, 250 fishing trips, and if the previous bag limit of 9 is completely caught
  • 911,250 fish taken by recreational fishers

But these numbers do not take into account fishers who don’t comply with bag limits, fishers who throw back little ones in order to high grade (take home 9 big fish) or who take more than the bag limit. There is no requirement for Recreational fishers to report their catches.

Assessing sustainability and managing a commercial species that is heavily fished by recreational fishers is a real challenge.

Precision Seafood Harvesting

From a commercial fishing and sustainability perspective the implementation of Precision Seafood Harvest (PSH) nets, designed to allow undersized fish to escape, in the SNA1 fishery will be drastically beneficial for immature and juvenile snapper, and would remove the utility of discard and high-grading regulations.

According to Steve Deanethe Minister for Primary Industries wants to see PSH gear on all vessels within in two years.