Michael Field - Journalist on Fishing, Pacific Fish Stocks and his book 'The Catch'

Interviewed by Tim LynchDecember 9, 2015
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Citizen initiated groups in NZ can make a difference if we commit to organise and make our voices heard.

This is about the exploitation of NZ waters by overseas fishing corporations and near on slavery of crews working on these boats in NZ waters.

This is about the vacuuming up of the last remaining tuna and large fishing stocks in the Pacific ocean, that last fishery on earth. Of corruption and irresponsible attitudes at virtually every level in the world’s fishing fleets.

We have to act now.

This is about the large fishing fleets, around our NZ coasts especially from China, Korea and Spain and that in many cases especially with the Korean boats, workers are essentially slaves, mostly young Asian men working horrendous hours, eating terrible food, often not getting paid and are simply killed in the business or get disappeared whilst at the same time they are participating in the vacuuming up of vast amounts of the Pacific and Indian oceans critically endangered fish stocks.

The book is a world book that Michael is very happy with how it has been received. Awa Press his publisher were very struck by the economic issues as well as the economic injustices of what was happening on the boats around NZ in that the NZ authorities were not really taking any notice of what was happening. This goes back many years to when NZ declared the 360 kilometre zone and the famous Sealord’s deal of an implied promise that goes back to NZ Prime Minister Robert Muldoon and his Government that NZers were going to control our huge fishery, when at that particular time there were a lot of Japanese and Soviet boats here and this deal implied that this would New Zealandise the deep sea fishing industry for NZers.

That ‘deal’ promised a great number of jobs onshore within NZ and in researching the book ‘The Catch’ Michael discovered that this was a tale of completely broken promises. From arguments that to get NZ crews, it would be too expensive, that NZ crews didn’t like the discomfort of going to sea and the whole idea basically collapsed with one or two of the world’s bigger and more ruthless fishing corporations totally dominating our NZ waters.

This resulted, very quickly, with the various onshore processing factories even the ones run by the Maori owned Sealord, were either closed down or made significantly smaller. Thus the large old dangerous ships mostly Korean flagged were coming to our waters, catching everything, freezing it shipping it through the port of Nelson or Auckland  and then sending it in containers to vast processing factories back in Korea or China.

This gave cause for Michael to wonder what was it that caused NZ to fail in running our economy more consciously here and why some of the original NZ ideas were betrayed by people whose motivation were nothing at all to do with New Zealand or NZ values or wider values of preserving fish stocks. Which as an industry is a very crowded complicated area and regrettably not enough people are taking notice of it.  

We have a tendency to believe in myths. One of them is the quota management system which was once hailed as the most sustainable in the world, which Michael, says is not the case, and that it is a deeper betrayal of an idea. he went on to say that he trusts that the book enables us to become far more aware of what is going on in the oceans around us. This includes our own inclusive zone as well as the Pacific.

In relation to Auckland and our snapper there is a serious argument between people of many conflicted interests and Michael’s battle with Sanford’s who control pretty much the Auckland inshore fishery have recently started to change their old business model which was a plunder the seas model, particularly snapper.

When the MPA the Ministry of Primary Industries and the Government decided to change the rules some years ago by giving commercial interests the rights to take more fish

whilst the recreational and Iwi (tribal peoples) had to take less, this bothered many NZers.

However, people are becoming far more aware of what is going on and even on national TV, Sanford’s are doing adverts telling viewers that they are far more mindful of their harvesting of the seas and are wanting to show that they are becoming albeit slowly – more conscious. Their business model has changed in that they are now targeting certain fish and exporting them live.

Also, Michael posits the idea there should not be an unlimited right for the recreational fishers to plunder fishing stocks either. That Auckland is a city of near on 1.5 million people and is proud of the fact that it is one on the few cities on earth that the inhabitants can quickly go to a beach or a little way off the shore and catch a meal for the family. Also, Michael likes the idea in the first instance, that we voluntarily report what we catch each time we go out fishing so as to build up a national data base of what fish are being taken. With the latest appts and smart phones, it is a very simple system. This eventually can become very sophisticated, that the scientific community can get a better understanding of what is in our waters, because, ‘what lies beneath’ is still a great unknown.

He suggests that fish charter companies be more ecologically conscious, and instead

of filling a charter with as many people as possible to go out and madly fish going for your quota of say 7 snapper constantly for 7 hours, but instead enjoy the majesty of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, take in the beauty, notice the bird life and whatever fauna is out there and turn it into an outing where you can relax, learn about fishing, catch a meal of a couple of fish, picnic, swim and have a heartfelt day on the water around the local islands.

He also stated that the Icelandic model of sustainable fisheries is becoming more well known and they are understanding what sustainability actually means in taking care of first, their fishing grounds, nurseries, breeding seasons and then fishing to specific guidelines – like find your customer first and then fish to order. It’s a very value added method as well. Icelandic fishermen now enjoy one of the best paid occupations in their country and they have become very successful at it.

We learn that snapper here in NZ is seen overseas as a high end luxury item and we need to value add to it here, and not allow it to become the ‘sausage meat’ of the industry. Instead serve it on top end plates around the world where people value it as ocean cuisine where people are prepared to pay the appropriate price for it. Where hoki at the other end is a planetary protein fish and companies like Talleys who process their catch in NZ  and Sealord and the Maori ownership are really now becoming engaged in changing the culture of exploitation.

This interview covers:

The moral dimensions, where good worker relationships, safety etc, is imperative. As these are our waters we need to be harvesting it, cherishing our fish stocks and caring for he marine environment.

Subsidies: overseas countries are subsidising boats, fuel, technology, for companies and fishermen to exploit the seas, that with out these added huge sums of money, would not allow for the plundering of world fishing stocks. China in particular is singled out as it has tens of hundreds of boats with the latest electronic gear tracking down all fish, and absolutely devastating the fisheries by vacuuming them all up, depleting the area of all fertile fish species, leaving an ocean desert in their wake. This is a gigantic problem, that is totally out of balance with ocean ecology, fish stocks, ethics and economic sense.

With overseas governmental subsidies and large boats purchased with interest free loans, in Michaels words they are ‘moving of the goal posts’ and allowing fishing corporations to financially be supported to go out into the Pacific to hunt down and harvest fewer and fewer fish until when the last fish is found and caught by the most sophisticated electronic devices available. This is when the ocean fisheries are no more and finally collapse. Thus, the delicate ecological web of life falls away, this is said to arrive by 2048 or if the fishing and vacuuming increases … before.

Countries are now reflagging their boats, from Vanuatu, the Solomon’s and the Marshall’s to disguise their ownership.

Note, that big eye tuna, albacore and blue fin are now in serious trouble and when one stock is fished out they focus down to a smaller stock to then target and mop up.

We also have the subsidised Spanish doing much the same thing (backed by the full force of the EU) and Michael says that in our part of the world the Spanish are becoming a really serious menace. There are people in the streets of Rarotonga protesting a very opaque deal with the Rarotonga Govt allowing Spanish purse seiner tuna boats into the northern Cook Islands. Some of the smaller island leaders are saying that the Spanish are stealing all their food. There is very little revenue from these ventures that ends up in the pockets of the peoples of these Pacific Island nations.

The Spanish have a very bad track record and have wiped out the Mediterranean stocks, the North Atlantic stocks, and at present they are annihilating Indian Ocean stocks and now they have come around to the Pacific and are vacuuming the South Pacific.

This has resulted in the Marine Stewardship Council with the initials MSC that you often see on seafood cans, being the organisation that ‘rates sustainability’ who recently gave McDonalds in Spain the right to call Pacific caught skipjack tuna Mediterranean tuna. Which is fished from the Marshall Islands – shipped to a Spanish factory in Papu New Guinea in Wewak. McDonalds then have on their labelling a statement saying you can eat this Mediterranean tuna, because it is being supporting by local villages to live. (listen to the interview, as there is a lot of lying going on.)

Michael says that people need to grow citizen lobby groups to become a force for sound and ethical policy and have a larger view of the need to preserve fishing and ocean stocks. Government fishing policy in NZ is immersed in complications such as: fish types, sizes, numbers, quotas, areas etc and citizens need to be very wary not to fall under the fisheries industries spell as has been the case.

Fisheries is a vast multi billion dollar industry globally and powerful forces are at play and if we let them, they will fish for the last fish.

The interview also covers:

The wall of death 100 mile long drift nets and the ‘Wellington Treaty’ that ex NZ Prime Minister, Sir Geoffrey Palmer was very much involved in stopping and that these nets were finally banned globally about 25 years ago.

Today there are FADS. A fish aggregating (or aggregation) device (FAD) is a man-made object used to attract ocean going pelagic fish such as marlin, tuna and mahi-mahi (dolphin fish). They usually consist of buoys or large floats tethered to the ocean floor with concrete blocks. Over 300 species of fish gather around and under FADs.

Resulting in a whole eco-system of fish, and with the latest electronic sensors, fishing corporations can measure the numbers, types of fish, etc and receive a signal up from a passing satellite when there is enough fish and a boat is dispatched to scoop the lot up - in one pass of the net. There are now more ‘conscious people wanting their fish caught FAD free’ such is the awareness of what fish are being taken and eaten these day. FAD fishing is wiping out as many fish as the ‘wall of death drift net were doing, this includes dolphins and sea turtles.

The latest fishing boats are full of technical wizardry with an array of electronics such as sonar that tracks exactly what species of fish there are, at what depth, where they come from and where they go to etc, especially when the fish are entering the net and exactly when to pull the net up.

Today there are also long lines 100 kilometres long with up to 30,000 hooks, taking anything and everything that is hungry and takes the bait.

Evidently El Nino does not actually damage food stocks? But it definitely does move them into different directions, especially migrating tuna.

The Pacific Community is a scientific group based in Noumea in New Caledonia and the warnings coming from them every year are getting more and more serious as time goes by, that the tuna for example are in big trouble.

Michael says we have to review our vision of what the ocean is and that we have to have everything tightly regulated to discourage countries like Spain and China who think they have the right to take what ever they want!

Michael, also alludes to the fishing industry has a dark side and has been associated with the criminal world, in this case Taiwan and Spain. This is to do with the tooth fish pirates in Antarctic waters where Spanish boats are taking everything including all the revenues back to Spain. It is noted that both the fisheries industry and the regulators are intimately connected via corrupt practices.

Now with satellite tracking smart phone photographs and other technologies we are slowly getting a handle where these fishing boats are at most times and this will steadily improve, though not before time.

Note that NZ has just enacted a large fishing sanctuary within the Kermadec Islands, however the Spanish now have ships sitting just outside it, but right on the edge and are fishing for every fish that is going in and out of the sanctuary. Its called ‘fishing the line’ they then bring their catch in their boats into Auckland, much of it blue fin tuna that NZ fishermen are not allowed to catch, but because they are caught just 500 metres outside the sanctuary in international waters they are able to then ship them out of Auckland back to Spain or Europe.

One particular incident was when a Spanish boat was in NZ for servicing in Whangarei, some NZers were able to see some smart phone photos of exploited Indonesian fishermen that showed what the Spanish were catching and that they were able to embarrass the NZ navy who boarded that Spanish boat to show that their search was so casual as to be farcical in that the navy were not doing their job at all. And the pictorial evidence was on the phone.

Salmon in NZ are eating munched up pilchards that are being sourced globally for NZ salmon farms – which is a devestating business that we have to be very wary of. Aquaculture in NZ is a myth as it is very unsustainable in the way it is being done.  

Today there is no global control of the world fishing industry and we are still trapped in the hunter gatherer side of the fishing industry especially at the business level, where the winner (the eventual loser) takes all.

A riveting and powerful interview that needs to be recognised by the Prime Minister down through all departments of Government, industry and society of New Zealand.


The amount of fish in the oceans has halved since 1970, in a plunge to the ""brink of collapse"" caused by over-fishing and other threats, the WWF conservation group said on Wednesday.

Populations of some commercial fish stocks, such as a group including tuna, mackerel and bonito, had fallen by almost 75 per cent, according to a study by the WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Michael Field ‘The Catch’  


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Tim Lynch

Tim Lynch, is a New Zealander, who is fortunate in that he has whakapapa, or a bloodline that connects him to the Aotearoan Maori. He has been involved as an activist for over 40 years - within the ecological, educational, holistic, metaphysical, spiritual & nuclear free movements. He sees the urgency of the full spectrum challenges that are coming to meet us, and is putting his whole life into being an advocate for todays and tomorrows children. 'To Mobilise Consciousness.'

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