A Fishy Tale, Part 2 – A Critique of Native Affairs’ Report

Many of you have undoubtedly seen the segment by Native Affairs on Monday night regarding allegations against Countdown of “dumping” tonnes of whole fish.
If you haven’t yet seen it visit their website, it is in three sections.

After I watched the segment I came up with some thoughts and questions.

Now, I do understand where recreational fishers are coming from. Their daily limits are severely restricted whereas commercial fisheries seem to have a bit of a loose rein. The commercial companies have orders to meet, but the recreational fishers want to catch a feed and do it for the love of fishing – it is a livelihood.
Their restrictions are higher too – fish they catch to keep must be larger than for most species in comparison to the minimum required of the commercials.

Now let’s look at the segment.

The whistleblower – Kevin Rogers – alleges that he regularly sees large bins of whole fish being delivered for processing at a local plant which turns waste into garden products and animal food. He’s a keen recreational fisher who drops off his own fish waste once or twice a week and has been doing so for over a decade.
He says that in the last 3 years he has seen loads of whole fish – which appear to be perfectly fine – delivered to the plant.
Over the last summer, he says, it became frequent to the point where he decided to do something about it.

On two separate occasions – in November of last year and in January of this year – he took still and video footage of bins appearing to contain whole fish. He also managed to obtain the receipts which came with the bins, showing that several tonnes of fish and fish parts had been delivered.

At one point when filming Mr Rogers was challenged by a plant foreman who told him he didn’t have permission to film.
Now this is the first issue. Mr Rogers was unhappy about being asked to stop filming but the plant were well within their rights to do this. One cannot enter a premises or private property and just begin filming without permission as this is a violation of rights and privacy. Potentially, the plant could have brought charges against Mr Rogers or had him trespassed from the property.
The footage does appear to be damning – but we cannot see anything below the top layers of waste. There is no way of knowing beyond all doubt how many bins were completely or mostly filled with whole fish.

The reporter used the phrase “..up to $40/kg..” to describe the price of Snapper. This part I was unhappy with as it is misleading and designed to distract the viewers and promote outrage.
Snapper fillets are up to $40/kg. However a whole snapper goes for as little as $14/kg – a huge difference. This of course was not mentioned in the segment despite it having relevance.
Why the wide range in pricing? Convenience, of course.

We as consumers have long paid for convenience when grocery shopping. It applies everywhere – not just in the seafood department.
A whole chicken is cheaper than boned and skinless breast fillet.
A cut of beef rump is cheaper than pre-cut and marinated steak.
A block of cheese is cheaper than a pre-grated bag of the same.
This doesn’t change the fact that paying a huge price for having the work done for us is something that should be looked at – do the prices need to be as high as they are? However this practice is the same no matter where you go – it is not exclusive to Countdown.

The next bit of questionable reporting is in the host’s claim that Countdown said in a statement that ..“no whole fish..” leaves their Penrose seafood processing plant.
She then displayed a copy of the email they received. Imagine my surprise when I paused the video to read it.
email wp edit

In reality, they stated “No record of large amounts of whole fish leaving our Penrose processing plant..” and “.. no record of whole fish going missing or being unaccounted for..”
Just a little bit different from an outright denial, right Native Affairs?

But as the saying goes – never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Strike one.

On to Countdown’s chance to share their side of the story.
You can find an official statement on the Progressive Enterprises website under their media releases section.

Native Affairs confirmed they had seen CCTV footage of some whole fish which had not passed the plant’s stringent food safety standards being put on top of fish by-products, then made a remark about not being given permission to air the footage, inferring that this was grossly offensive and somehow sinister.
But why should they have to hand over the footage? The only case in which anyone must hand over footage is to assist police in a criminal investigation.
Some may say surrendering whole fish to a processing plant is criminal in principle, but in the eyes of the law it is not.
Think of it this way. If you have a videographer attend a family function or event and film for you, you have rights to privacy. You own that footage. You paid for it. If the videographer wants to display clips from that footage on his website as part of his portfolio he needs your permission and you have every right to decline. He must respect this.
It is the same with the footage viewed at the seafood plant – their ownership of the footage and what they choose to do with it must be respected regardless of what you’d like to do with that footage as a third-party.

Two strikes, Native Affairs.

Next the interviewer asked if Countdown pays for any spoiled fish and acted surprised when she was told they didn’t.
If you find a product you’ve bought or are about to buy is no longer fit to eat, do you expect to have to pay for it?
Of course not.

So why would Countdown pay for product they can’t use?

But why is Countdown receiving the blame? They don’t catch the fish – the big commercial companies do.
Perhaps these companies need to improve their storage and handling. Perhaps their quotas need to be reduced.
Matt Watson, who has a popular fishing show, was of the opinion that commercial quotas should be reevaluated.

Mr Rogers also alleges some fish are undersized. Once again this should be the responsibility of the company that catches them. Countdown is not able to control which fish the company chooses to keep and claims they do not regularly receive undersized product. So why is the finger being pointed at them?

Which brings us to the studio interview.
During this final part of the segment Glenn Simmons – who is an NZ fisheries expert and a researcher – and Shane Jones shared their views.

Glenn Simmons was objective and enjoyable to listen to. He agreed that there were concerns around the issue and one of the interesting facts he pointed out is how little of a whole fish we use as a country. He described how even the skin of fish is used in other countries, or dried out. He challenged us as a country to waste less but admitted we are very behind in terms of how we use and process fish by-products.
He also mentioned that commercial fishing issues were raised with our government as early as the late 1930s. Nothing was done then either.

Shane Jones, on the other hand…. oh where to begin?
The contemptuous attitude of this man astounds me. He had no respect even for the presenter and Mr Simmons, interrupting and talking over them both whenever the notion took him.
He went back to his ‘big bully supermarkets’ theory, trying to tell us that the fishing companies are “afraid” of Countdown. Laughable!
He complained that funding for maintaining fishing vessels goes on “scientists” but didn’t elaborate on who these scientists are and what they are doing with this money.

He didn’t even make an effort to learn Kevin Rogers’ name, instead saying “I believe that old fella… I can’t remember his name but I believe him..”
Are you serious…? you go on national TV, talking about a serious issue, and you can’t remember the name of the man who bought it to our attention? How disrespectful.

The most amazingly ridiculous comments he made though were the disparaging remarks about the Minister for the Ministry of Primary Industries, Nathan Guy – dismissing the man’s position and office as insignificant and insinuating it is not a ‘real’ title. He accused Minister Guy of ‘ignoring’ him.
On top of that, he alleged that the head of the Commerce commission, Craig Foss, “tried to humiliate” him.

Does Mr Jones think he’s back in the school yard? With comments like that spoken on national TV, I have to wonder.

Then there was his sidestepping of the questions around commercial fisheries and to how much of a degree they are accountable for the amount of fish taken.
But of course he will defend the companies and make excuses for them, attempting to project the blame back on the hapless Countdown who is merely a distributor – he has got his fingers in the commercial fish pies, after all.
Everything he said was a questionable from start to finish. His conduct was, as usual, dismissive and disrespectful.

In summary, it was an interesting segment which certainly opened up the floor for questions around our fishing practices and how we use (and don’t use) this precious resource.
All we needs to do now is look in the direction of the suppliers – the commercial fishing giants.