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Fisheries Management System—Confidence

Thursday 6 October 2011 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

Hughes12. GARETH HUGHES (Green) Link to this
to the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture

Does he have confidence in New Zealand’s fisheries management system, in particular, how it deals with bycatch?

HeatleyHon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture) Link to this

Yes. New Zealand has an internationally recognised fisheries management system. Of course, we are constantly introducing improvements.

HughesGareth Hughes Link to this

Is it possible that the country’s favourite emperor penguin, Happy Feet, was killed by a trawler?

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I call the Hon Phil Heatley, in so far as the Minister has responsibility for Happy Feet.

HeatleyHon PHIL HEATLEY Link to this

It is highly improbable, because my officials had a screen of Happy Feet’s transponder next to a screen of fishing vessels’ transponders, and they never came near to each other.

HughesGareth Hughes Link to this

Given that the Minister, in his response to questions for written answer, identified that there were nine southern blue whiting trawlers recorded within 20 to 50 nautical miles of Happy Feet’s last known location, how can he say it is highly unlikely that he was killed by a trawler?

HeatleyHon PHIL HEATLEY Link to this

Mr Speaker—[ Interruption]

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I want to hear the Minister’s answer. It will be interesting.

HeatleyHon PHIL HEATLEY Link to this

I can report that when Happy Feet’s transponder turned off, the nearest southern blue whiting fishing vessel was 32 kilometres away. Its fishing lines are not 32 kilometres long.

QuinnPaul Quinn Link to this

Is the Minister able to advise us what did happen to Happy Feet?

HeatleyHon PHIL HEATLEY Link to this

I really want to. I have heard it said that Happy Feet may very well have become a happy meal.

HughesGareth Hughes Link to this

To the Minister—[ Interruption]

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I realise that this is the last question of this parliamentary term, but I still want to hear it.

HughesGareth Hughes Link to this

Given that a southern blue whiting trawler can cover 50 nautical miles in a day—and we are talking about an incredibly long net that is almost half a kilometre wide and 75 metres high—how can the Minister claim that it is very unlikely that Happy Feet was possibly trawled by a southern blue whiting trawler?

HeatleyHon PHIL HEATLEY Link to this

The reason I say it is highly unlikely is that when Happy Feet’s transponder—or whatever we call it—turned off, the closest vessel was 32 kilometres away. That would have meant that the vessel raced the transponder’s emission, which went probably faster than—or close to—the speed of light. That would have been a very fast fishing vessel, indeed.

HughesGareth Hughes Link to this

I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very good answer, but it did not get to the question, which was whether a trawler can cover 50 nautical miles in a day.

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I think the Minister gave a pretty fair answer as to why he believes that the trawler could not have caught Happy Feet, because of the difference in the speed of the transponder’s signal compared with a trawler’s speed. I think that is a reasonable answer to that question, but the member does have some more supplementary questions to pursue the matter.

HughesGareth Hughes Link to this

Would Happy Feet have had any chance of survival had he been captured by a southern blue whiting trawler, given that the net is 400 metres wide and 75 metres high and that the vessel can trawl for 6 to 8 hours at a time?

HeatleyHon PHIL HEATLEY Link to this

I hate to sink the member further, but unfortunately the fact is that the closest vessel to Happy Feet when the transponder went off was the Tangaroa, which was the boat that released Happy Feet.

HughesGareth Hughes Link to this

Is the Minister concerned—[ Interruption]

SmithMr SPEAKER Link to this

I apologise to the member, but—[ Interruption] Colleagues, please. I believe we have only a couple more questions, so if we could just hold it together for that length of time.

HughesGareth Hughes Link to this

Is the Minister concerned that a southern blue whiting fishery not only posed a possible threat to the emperor penguin Happy Feet but also is the fishery of the highest bycatch of New Zealand fur seals, and also captures seabirds and critically endangered sea lions?

HeatleyHon PHIL HEATLEY Link to this

As I said, I am reasonably convinced that a southern blue whiting vessel did not catch Happy Feet. We are always disappointed about bycatch, but the industry is working very well with the Ministry of Fisheries to minimise this.

HughesGareth Hughes Link to this

Will the Minister consider stopping the destructive practice of bottom trawling, with its devastating effects on the marine environment and endangered species and the risk to our fisheries image globally, given that last week the Guardian ran an article on New Zealand’s Hector’s dolphin that was covered prominently in the UK media? Is that a risk to our “clean, green” brand?

HeatleyHon PHIL HEATLEY Link to this

The fishing industry has voluntarily closed one-third of New Zealand’s sea space to bottom trawling. We support that move. It is one of the largest areas closed in the world, which shows a responsible attitude. I support that.