The seafood industry: progress and prospects

  • Pete Hodgson
Fisheries and Aquaculture

[Address to NZ Seafood Industry Conference, Ascot Park Hotel, Invercargill.]

Before I sat down to write this year's speech I decided to read last year's.

Last year's speech was important to me. I wanted to explain who I was. I wanted to give people a feel for what the new Government stood for. I wanted to make a few commitments to the industry that we could be judged by.

At the outset I nailed my colours firmly to the sustainability of the aquatic ecosystem.

I had a look at how today's seafood industry might look in 20 years time.

I declared I was unavailable for capture, by anyone, because I would lose credibility and effectiveness if I were.

I owned up to a couple of process cock-ups and I said sorry.

I said that public policy development had fallen behind what I wanted and what the industry needed. I said we would set out to catch up.

I committed myself to getting rid of the 1992 permit moratorium as quickly as possible.

So what's changed?

In some areas nothing has - I've still got my colours nailed firmly to the sustainability of the aquatic ecosystem. We all do. Unsustainability has nothing going for it. Sustainability comes first. It comes before anything else. Anything.

Indeed it's my view that as the world's tariff structures are slowly negotiated away, the new trade barriers will be environmental in nature.

Does this product come from a sustainable fishery? What is the level and the trend of the marine mammal bycatch? Are mercury or cadmium or organochlorine residue levels low enough? Questions like these are becoming steadily more important.

New Zealand's challenge is to build on the success of the QMS framework and to make sure we have environmental standards that are higher than these new and emerging demands.

If our products can clear these non-tariff trade barriers, and the products of other nations cannot, then environmental standards will earn this industry serious money. Ongoing improvement in environmental standards is where the future lies.

The Ministry is hard at work on an Environmental Management Strategy. A framework for it is due to see the light of day shortly.

This will help ensure that the front end of the Fisheries Act - the parts concerning environmental principles - are accorded the importance that Parliament intended. And it will give the industry a level of certainty they don't currently have.

Looking further at last year's speech I find other things that haven't changed when maybe we could have hoped they might.

The 1992 moratorium on permits is still in place and the public policy work to get it lifted isn't complete.

But there is good news. A year ago we were looking at introducing seven more species into the QMS over the next year or three. Now we are aiming at substantially more than that.

Put another way, we will be progressively lifting the moratorium, species by species, to a greater extent than we thought we would a year ago.

It's been a busy year. Let me quickly remind you what's happened since your last annual conference.

The devolution of registry services to the industry has hit a bit of chop, but kept steaming and will be complete, on time, by 1 October this year. Congratulations to all involved at SeaFIC and FishServe.

On that date the new catch balancing regime comes into being. This should be of significant benefit to the industry. It's more flexible and it's more transparent.

But with it comes the strong obligation for accurate, timely catch reporting. Please be clear that those obligations will be strictly enforced.

The recreational fishing consultation report has been produced by the Recreational Fishing Council and the Ministry of Fisheries, released, and commented on by the public.

Through the Option Four group we saw the involvement of more recreational fishers than in any such previous exercise, ever.

I must now make progress on a suite of issues to formalise the involvement and rights of the recreational sector.

The Marine Reserves Act review has completed its public consultation season and recommendations are due with the Government in July.

Aquaculture reform has both slipped and progressed. It's proving to be hard. A proposed way forward is now being crunched, and key stakeholders will assess a proposed package shortly.

We've ratified the UNCLOS agreement on conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. I deposited the document in the UN myself last month and on Tuesday it came into New Zealand law.

The week before, New Zealand hosted the first preparatory conference for the Convention on Western and Central Pacific Tuna Fisheries, in Christchurch. This is the world's first regional fisheries arrangement to base itself on the UN stocks agreement. We're also making progress on Southern Bluefin Tuna issues and the improvement of the science to ensure stock recovery.

SeaFIC has begun the transition to commodity levies, and legislation to wind up the Fishing Industry Board is progressing through the House. SeaFIC has had one round of consultation, modified some of the detail, and is now having another round. Congratulations to Dave Sharp and John Valentine and all the others involved in this process.

In March the Ministry of Fisheries released three discussion documents on fisheries plans, beginning a process of what might one day be seen as far-reaching reform in the way we manage our nation's fisheries. I want to come back to that issue a bit later.

Then there is oceans policy. This is overarching policy work. It deals with a lot more than fisheries. It deals with our values and aspirations for the marine environment and how we put them into practice. It deals with how we integrate our management of fishing, aquaculture, mining, tourism, energy production, science, communication, defence, transport and so on. And of course sustainability lies at its core.

At this conference last year I made my first public statement on this issue. Since then all the groundwork has been done and the first public stage of policy development is now under way.

Eight carefully selected and smart New Zealanders have been given the job of asking the rest of us what our values and principles might be for the future management of our oceans.

Those are unusual questions to ask. What are your values? What are your principles? We usually just assume that the answers are known.

But oceans policy is a big undertaking. It is very future-focussed, and it asks people to imagine and confront trade-offs that still haven't arrived.

Keep up with this one. David Anderson, of the advisory committee, spoke to you yesterday and Carolyn Risk brought the latest material to the conference. I recommend you pick it up if you haven't already.

So a fair bit has been happening on the policy front. Last year I said we were behind the eight ball and that the public sector had to catch up with the industry. This year I'm going to claim that we've begun to do that. I'm going to claim some progress.

You're entitled to say 'not enough'. But there are only so many fronts on which we can all make progress at once.

It's been a huge year for the industry.

On the down side, I had to close a deep sea fishing ground because of resource depletion for the first time. It was a crystal clear decision. I didn't hesitate. But it was very sad and very frustrating for all of us and it underscores just how difficult fish stocks like orange roughy can be.

Following that decision I had a review done of the previous five years of science and decision making on orange roughy. To be honest, I wanted to find a clear, obvious mistake in earlier years. But I didn't find one.

Dr Robert Kearney said the depletion of the fisheries was unfortunate but understandable, due to the extreme difficulty and great uncertainty in assessing orange roughy stocks. Roughy is an example of where the precautionary approach has an important role to play.

The good news coming from the industry this year has been remarkable. The Marine Stewardship Council accreditation of New Zealand hoki was a milestone.

The hoki fishery has its challenges, of course. Fishing pressure is not evenly or adequately spread between East and West, so we'll be reviewing that this year. Many fur seals and birds are still being caught, and the measures already being taken to reduce that will have to be continually improved.

But the industry has now signed up to a process of continuous improvement and international scrutiny. And it's the first groundfish fishery in the world to have done so.

Te Ohu Kai Moana has had a very busy time of it. Big changes in board membership and even bigger changes in quota ownership. This coming year will, I hope, be even busier. I'll make a point of not saying any more about that.

I would like to single out an industry association for particular thanks. I'm talking about the issue of protecting West Coast North Island Hectors dolphins and the time and effort put in by the Northern Inshore Fisheries Company.

Decisions are still to be made and the issue is quite complex. But the willingness and goodwill displayed by the Northern Inshore Fisheries Company in talking with affected fishers and other stakeholders has been outstanding. So I thank you.

Aquaculture has had another big year, toxic algae notwithstanding. The science and the economic development coming out of this segment of the industry is very exciting, and I feel very positive about its diverse future.

The productivity potential and projected increase in exports are impressive. The New Zealand Aquaculture Council vision document is equally impressive. They've identified the barriers to their rapid growth path. I should acknowledge that until we've sorted aquaculture law reform, I'm one of those barriers.

But I guess the best news is the growth in the value of the seafood industry exports overall. It's up 7 percent, in one year, to 1.43 billion dollars. More than 10, 000 New Zealanders are now employed directly in the industry.

That growth and the prospects for future growth mean that this industry is playing a pivotal role in New Zealand's economic transformation. As we seek to position ourselves as a gourmet economy, as producers of the world's finest foods, this industry is surely demonstrating its ability to produce the world's finest sea foods.

Let me now turn to fisheries plans.

Your conference is devoting a fair chunk of time to this issue. Your organisers have made the right decision. Kim Drummond will explain the Ministry's thinking, and get your response to it.

For the past little while many people, myself included, have been saying that they would like to know what a fisheries plan looked like when they ran into one.

Well, now's the time to begin answering that question. But the irony is that the Ministry of Fisheries have taken a thoroughly non-prescriptive approach and they've done that on purpose.

Because a fisheries plan is as much a process as an outcome.

Fisheries plans can, and almost certainly will, differ widely.

Fisheries plans can, and almost certainly will, change a lot over time. They'll come and go. Amalgamate and fractionate, grow and decline, succeed and fail.

But the big idea behind a fisheries plan is that with the right process, the right content and the right management it will allow stakeholders to step up to the plate and allow the Government to retreat.

It is a kind of managed, supervised devolution.

It is about stakeholder solutions where possible and regulation only where necessary.

It is a process of maturation.

It is a more modern form of government.

Without doubt it involves risks and opportunities for all the players.

Without doubt, getting the first few plans up will be a bit frustrating.

But I find the whole concept really exciting. I'm very keen that we get some successes on the board.

Arguably we have some successes already. Challenger scallops or CRA3 or South Island eels are the commonly mentioned ones.

Fisheries plans will formalise those ad hoc, pioneering, wise successes.

Fishing is a highly regulated industry. The aquatic environment is a highly regulated bit of territory.

Fisheries plans give us all an opportunity to reduce centrally controlled regulation. They give us all an opportunity for a particular fishery or a particular locality to take ownership of sustainable management. They have the potential to give effect to Government's wish to reduce compliance costs across the economy.

You should be very clear that this is not some aberrant right-wing lurch. The Government will always be in the background and will always retain the power to intervene.

That's because we're dealing with the commons. But smart stakeholders have the potential to manage a patch of the commons better than smart bureaucrats.

Now, having mentioned smart bureaucrats let me put a plug in for Warwick Tuck and his officials at the Ministry.

Yes, I find them a bit testing sometimes, as you do. Too much paper, too little time, too much obscurity, too much red tape. But despite that I feel well served. They are smart bureaucrats. They are strongly committed. They are also over-committed. So both you and I will need their input as we try and get this fisheries plan stuff to work. And you and I both will have to accept that they can't do everything at once.

Look hard at the way the Fisheries plans deal with tangata whenua. They are given a primacy consistent with the Treaty. It's time we got that idea firmly embedded.

Article Two of the Treaty, on the matter of fisheries, is about as unambiguous as you can get. We've done pretty well as a nation on that part of the Treaty and by the way I'll feel a lot happier when we can progress customary rights issues in the North Island as reasonably and as calmly as we have in the South.

So the question is: which fisheries plan will be first up? Who will be in the first ten?

Will it be a deep sea species? Hoki? Will it be inshore? Paua?

Will it be commercial? Roughy? Will it be recreational, like Marlborough cod?

Will it be a species or a locality? Crayfish or Guardians of Fiordland Fisheries?

Will it come from an iwi or hapu, such as those who have already progressed taiapure?

Will it be a sessile species, like Otago cockles, or a finfish stock that has already been exhaustively researched, like Snapper One?.

More importantly: will people get the process right? Will they have the time and the wisdom to ensure that all stakeholders are fully and equally involved? Or will they learn the hard way that shortcuts take longer?

Enough questions. You can tell I'm pretty keen on this Fisheries Plan business and you can tell that I want to acknowledge it is an uncertain road. But I really believe it is worth travelling. I think the alternative of multi layered regulation, intervention, iteration and litigation is too expensive.

I'm not looking through rose tinted spectacles for peace and light. I'll probably still end up signing out defective regulation, like every other Fisheries Minister, despite best attempts to meet local needs and conditions. You'll probably still file ill-considered litigation, and lose time and money as you go.

But I am looking for a start. I am looking towards the day when a more mature approach to managing our fisheries can be demonstrated, recognised, and given effect. That day can't come soon enough.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak. For the rest of the day I want to spend my time listening. Your programme looks excellent.

I hope next year is a boomer.