Environmental Defence Society (EDS) Conference

  • Hon Stuart Nash

Grand Millenium Hotel

71 Mayoral Drive, Auckland


Tēnā koutou katoa. Thank you for the opportunity to be here and speak to you today.

It is an honour to be sharing the stage with such knowledgeable and experienced practitioners.

Conference theme

I want to make clear, that this Government is deeply committed to strengthening our fisheries management system by improving sustainability and building greater transparency.

In the fisheries space, we need to show that profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, but can go hand in hand.

I truly believe that the only way to achieve meaningful change is by being open to others ideas and views.  No one has all the answers, but sometimes solutions to the issues that matter come from the most unlikely of sources.

The thing is, no matter what your connection to the sea – be it commercial, recreational, customary – or an abiding passion for protecting and enhancing our marine environment – we all want the same thing: abundant seas managed in a sustainable way.


Today, I want to very briefly outline my vision for a sustainable fisheries management system which supports abundant fisheries, for the benefit and enjoyment of all New Zealanders.

I welcome questions and will leave plenty of time for these.

To me, a constructive dialogue is critical to forming a strong foundation for working together on a vision that we can all share.

The Government has set out an ambitious work programme for Fisheries New Zealand.

We need to make sure that the changes we are making now not only improve things in the short-term, but are future focused and sufficiently resilient to set our fisheries management system well into the medium- and long-term.

We need a fisheries management system that anticipates the needs of our marine environment, our growing and changing population, and the exponential growth in innovation and technology. 


We need a fisheries management system that meets the needs of all key stakeholders in a way that adds value and accrues benefits.  After all, there is no point in change for changes sake.  If we can’t prove benefits over and above cost, then we have failed to make a robust argument for change.

For me, innovation is key.

But not just innovation in the way we fish; but innovation in the way we communicate with key stakeholders; innovation in the way we market our fish products globally; innovation in the way we empower solution providers to seek answers to the burning issues of the day; and of course innovation in the way we look at the potential economic value of every fish.

One example is the development by Revolution Fibres and Sanford, of anti-wrinkle face-packs made from the collagen fibres found in hoki skins.

After 10 years in development, this product has recently been launched in the China market and is a remarkable story of turning a low value part of the fish from our largest fishery previously used as pet food, into a high value beauty product.

Innovation can provide new, more productive and - most importantly - more sustainable methods of fishing. Examples such as the Precision Seafood Harvesting tool demonstrate how New Zealand fishers are innovating in ways that embody both guardianship of the marine environment, and good business practice.

I will be looking to Fisheries New Zealand to work closely in partnership with industry to do things differently.  We need to transition from an organisation that in the past told people why they couldn’t do things, into a Ministry that enables solution provides to share their ideas, test them and implement those that work – and learn from those that didn’t.

Transparency – Digital Monitoring

21st Century technology is providing new ways of demonstrating transparency about how fishing activity occurs, and the decisions that underlie our fisheries management system.

This is important to Fisheries New Zealand, and for commercial fishers – many of whom would like to be able to better demonstrate that they are operating responsibly.

Digital monitoring is a key mechanism to enable increased transparency.

This data will improve our knowledge of where and when fishing occurs, what is caught and what is returned to the sea.

The roll out of the first phase of digital monitoring - electronic catch reporting and position reporting - is underway and is providing near real-time data on all trawl vessels larger than 28 metres. This represents 70 percent of all commercial catch in New Zealand.

Electronic catch reporting and position reporting is to be extended to the rest of the commercial fishing fleet and land-based fishers, with roll-out expected to start in the last quarter of this year.

Transparency is part of this cultural change.  I have instructed Fish NZ to release all documents that go back to the beginning of this century, of course redacting that which is legally privileged.  But let’s draw a line under past practices, perhaps accept we could have done things better at the time, and move on.

There is a picture, I think used by Greenpeace on twitter as part of a campaign to get people to write to me about a certain issue.  It shows three dead dolphins on a large fishing boat – and I believe is meant to portray modern fishing practise.  Unfortunately it has down the bottom “Copyright Ministry of Fisheries”.  Well Ministry of Fisheries existed between 1995 and 2011 so the picture is at least 8 years old or perhaps 20. 

On-board Cameras

Innovation is also an important driver for the introduction of on-board cameras on commercial fishing vessels - a topic I know you will all be interested in.

On-board cameras will significantly improve the quality of information Fisheries New Zealand gets on commercial fishing. They will increase our ability to confirm commercial catch and bycatch, and protected species interactions.

But I do want to be clear - it is vitally important that we address the policy issues that have led to the perverse situation today where fishers are actually incentivised to dump and discard - to high grade.  So before cameras are placed on boats we need to sort out the current deemed value regime as well as the dumping and discarding rules and regulations.

I am developing a paper to take to Cabinet that starts the process of reforming Fisheries policy and begins the conversation that we must have regarding important policy settings.

My challenge to you is to participate in this process, alongside other stakeholders who may have what feels like contradictory views. You have an important role to play; you bring expertise that this conversation needs. It is critical that all views, all voices, have a space to speak and an opportunity to be heard.  But perhaps start with the premise that the majority – not all I accept – but the majority of fisher men and women are also conservationists.  After all, their livelihoods depend on abundant fisheries.

Ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management

A key challenge for the fisheries management system is to balance the cultural, social and economic benefits from fishing, while ensuring that we maintain the integrity of our natural ecosystems and habitats.

I consider ecosystem-based approaches to be an effective way of achieving this balance, and I support progressing these approaches in New Zealand.

New Zealand has committed to moving towards an ecosystem approach to fisheries management by 2020. This is one of our objectives under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

An ecosystem-based approach reflects the stewardship role we should all play in managing all our fisheries resources, and the ecosystems and biodiversity that support those resources.

Fisheries New Zealand is exploring how to progress towards ecosystem-based management approaches.  But these fundamental changes don’t happen overnight.

We need to ensure that further progress along the path of ecosystem based fisheries management is well informed and evidence based. And ensure that the pathway towards this will not affect the Deed of Settlement or the rights of tangata whenua arising from the Deed, as well as quota holders who view such rights as sacrosanct and who will not hesitate to use the judicial process if they feel wronged.

It is my intention to avoid an acrimonious pathway if at all possible, and while conversation and dialogue can take a little longer than legislation, the outcomes are increasingly better and more sustainable over the political cycle.

I believe we already have a good foundation for achieving an ecosystems approach in the Fisheries Act. For example, the Act provides flexibility to consider the interdependence of stocks and relevant social, cultural, and economic factors when making decisions.

Digital monitoring will also be an important contributor to moving further towards an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management.

The rich, responsive and robust information that digital monitoring can provide will complement our important research and observer programmes. It will further support transformation in the way that we approach fisheries management. Because it will provide a level of data that will mostly improve the quality of decision making around catch levels across all Sectors.


I also want to touch on aquaculture.

The Government is committed to well-planned and sustainable aquaculture growth. In practice, this means:

  • working collaboratively to address regulatory uncertainties and improve confidence in the industry, primarily through the development of a National Environmental Standard for Marine Aquaculture;
  • enabling Māori participation by delivering iwi aquaculture settlements;
  • working with industry to improve biosecurity management; and
  • encouraging innovation to add value, build resilience, and improve environmental performance.

The key is a resilient and sustainable aquaculture industry. For this reason, the previous government considered a proposal to relocate some salmon farms to more appropriate sites in the Marlborough Sounds.

I released the independent advisory panel’s report on this proposal to the public in February. I have asked officials to provide further advice on the panel’s recommendations. The consultation process raised a number of important issues that require careful consideration. A decision is not likely to be made before the end of spring.

I am aware of emerging technologies that could enable aquaculture in future to move further offshore. We need to consider, as a country, how we enable that transition to take place. Fisheries New Zealand and EDS staff recently visited Norway to learn more about these technologies and how they can be applied and managed in New Zealand.  But let’s just say that I believe this industry has a very bright future.

Concluding comments

To achieve long-lasting, meaningful reform means realising the many aspirations New Zealanders have for their use of fisheries and the marine environment. This requires trying to advance people’s different aspirations, different perspectives.

Such a balancing act takes time. Time to have the right conversations, time to consider the science, and time to make decisions in a fair and transparent way.

I encourage you to participate in these conversations, have your say but be open minded and be prepared to listen to what others have to say and don’t discount ideas just because they come from a place you may not favour.  But we will get there and in three years the Fisheries space will look different that it does now and in ten years it will be unrecognisable from what it looks like in three years.

I hope my speech has made it clear that myself, and this Government, are committed to improving sustainability, increasing transparency and reducing interactions with other species.