Auckland University activist academics have renewed their attacks on the commercial fishing industry.

And they have been joined by Otago University’s Prof Liz Slooten who continues to falsely claim the seafood sector is catching and killing Maui dolphins, despite lacking a shred of evidence to that effect.

Auckland University Business School head Prof Nigel Haworth, who is also president of the Labour Party, and colleague Dr Glenn Simmons are leading a campaign to undermine the Quota Management System.

They object to it being regarded as world leading and said as much in a letter published in the US-based National Academy of Sciences journal this week.

They accompanied it with a press release on Auckland University letterhead yesterday claiming “New Zealand is failing miserably at looking after the majority of our fish stocks”.

Complacency and smugness was rife amongst the Ministry for Primary Industries and politicians, they also claimed, abandoning science in favour of politics.

What they did not refer to was an international paper from Mora et al from 2012, titled Management Effectiveness of the World’s Marine Fisheries, that rated New Zealand higher than the US, Iceland, Norway and Russia.

An inconvenient truth, perhaps?

Or maybe the naysayers, being highly educated people, are relying on the philosopher Nietzsche’s dictum that there are no truths, only interpretations.

The National Academy of Sciences journal also carried this week a response from leading New Zealand and international scientists, including MPI principal adviser on fisheries science Dr Pamela Mace, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research chief scientist Dr Rosie Hurst and University of Washington professor of aquatic and fishery science Ray Hilborn.

“New Zealand fisheries statistics cited by Slooten et al appear incorrect,” they said.

“In 2016, assessed stocks accounted for 72 percent of total landings by volume (79 percent by value), representing the majority of commercial fish species; 97 percent of assessed landings by volume were identified as having no sustainability issues for target species. The Quota Management System has generally been successful at reducing fleet overcapacity and fishing effort, eliminating harmful subsidies, maintaining productive stocks, and rebuilding previously depleted stocks.

“In any fisheries management system there are competing values and there is always room for improvements. Slooten et al highlight several challenges in New Zealand, which apply to many other fisheries around the world. However, they fail to recognise the positioning of New Zealand systems within a global context, as exemplified by comparative analyses. Our findings that New Zealand fisheries management systems are among the world’s most successful at meeting objectives are consistent with previous findings.

“To improve fisheries management globally, the greatest gains to be made are in the lower performing countries, where there are currently insufficient resources and attention to achieving basic management goals.”

MPI responded yesterday that “we stand behind our scientific findings that show New Zealand’s fish stocks are in good shape”.

“All of New Zealand’s major commercial fisheries have full stock assessments and these assessments are all independently reviewed in a transparent and open process,” MPI stated.

“To make sure our assessment methods are robust, we periodically get the world’s best fisheries scientists to review our approach.

“The fisheries that are fully assessed are those most at risk, either because that’s where most of the commercial catch comes from, or they’re particularly vulnerable.

“Where stock status is uncertain, MPI is deliberately cautious in the advice it provides the Minister on setting catch limits.

“Ninety seven percent of landings come from stocks where there are no sustainability concerns.”

The seafood industry appreciates the importance of critical debate in the academic community and that ideas for better fisheries management are being discussed.

That means acknowledging that academic freedom does allow a small core on the public payroll to pursue personal agendas.

And we do agree with Dr Simmons that “New Zealand now needs to focus on how to provide truly sustainable fisheries management, maximising long-term profits and minimising environmental impacts”.

That is exactly the course the industry is on.