Forest & Bird Annual Conference

Icon, Te Papa, Wellington

Saturday 23 June 2018, 1.20pm

Tena tatou katoa. Thank you for the opportunity to come and talk to you today. I grew up in Napier where my grandmother was a longtime member of Forest and Bird. Some of my happiest early memories of time with her was going on Forest and Bird fieldtrips together.

What I would like to do is outline at a high level my vision for Fisheries New Zealand.

We have an ambitious work programme that will lead to a paradigm shift in fisheries – and perhaps also in conservation. Most importantly, it is my experience now that at conferences, the most valuable contribution I can make is to outline my vision at a high level and then leave plenty of time for you to ask questions. This allows you to get answers to the issues that are important to you, rather than me talk about issues that are important to me – perhaps two different things.

But first a bit of background.

As a new Minister, I took over a division of MPI that was distrusted by the commercial sector – mainly due to the feeling that a proper consultation process had not been followed around electronic monitoring and cameras.

That was loathed by the recreational and NGO sectors because they thought the officials were in the pocket of the industry,

And we were about to be engaged in court action with the customary sector because of the way in which the Kermadec decision was made.

You may well agree, not a particularly positive environment in order to start driving change.

So I have spent the last 6 or so months endeavouring to rebuild relationships and formalise the process of reconnecting with key stakeholders.

And this includes working closely and collaboratively with Hon Eugenie Sage in her role as Minister of Conservation. There is an advanced work programme that I can’t release today, but Minister Sage and I are working on a number of innovative projects.

In fact, it is fair to say that I am taking more of an operational approach to fisheries than I am in any of my other ministerial portfolios.

So to start, we launched Fisheries New Zealand.  I absolutely wanted to rebrand in a way that allowed us to distance fisheries from what I perceived to be a rather toxic brand – MPI – in this space at least. Minister Jones has taken the same approach for the same reason with forestry.

But under any brand must sit a number of attributes which give meaning and purpose, and upon which an organisation can focus and direct itself and convey to the market.

So the key word and concept that I wanted to communicate is ‘innovation’.

  • Innovation in the way we deal with key industry stakeholders
  • Innovation in the way we develop new markets, service existing ones and migrate much further to value-add, but much more importantly, how we develop and live brand New Zealand
  • Innovation in ‘on-boat’ technology; this includes below water and above water - how we catch fish and how we report what we catch.
  • Innovation in the way we communicate with our communities.

My vision is for Fisheries New Zealand to become an enabler; a solution provider; an organisation that does not tell people, councils and organisations why they can’t do things, but seeks to work in collaboration to find answers to the challenges facing all sectors.

I have talked publically about transparency and I have asked my officials to release the last 15 years of papers in order to prove we have nothing to hide, but to also draw a line under the past.

If all I am doing is discussing actions from a decade ago, I am not talking about the innovative initiatives we are developing.

A key point to make, is that we all want the same thing.  Believe it or not, at a very base level, Mr Talley wants exactly what Mr Hague wants.  That is abundant seas.

If you think any fisherman enjoys pulling up a net or reeling in a line and finding a dolphin, penguin, seal or seabird, then you are sorely mistaken.  In fact I would argue that a healthy majority of fishermen and women are actually conservationists under most definitions. Some aren’t and this is the challenge.

So if we are to achieve our collective vision, we actually all have to work together.

This starts on the fishing boats and it ends in market – or probably the other way around to be honest – and encompasses every step in between.

If you think that all fishermen and women are evil people, who disobey the law and seek money over sustainability then I am sad to say, you will never make any progress.

I have delivered a similar message to the industry: that if fishers believe that all environmentalists want to end fishing once and for all, then sadly, they will never be as successful as they could be.

At this point in time I believe the messages that both are sending out about each other are not helpful to achieving what we all want.

You see, the greater the value we can add to our fisheries, the bigger the incentive to actually ‘get it right’.

The more powerful “Brand New Zealand” is in international markets, and the higher the premium that a global consumer will pay for fish caught from New Zealand, then the greater the incentive will be to innovate both on shore and at sea.

If, on the other hand, we destroy our brand, then we run the very real risk of returning to being exporters of bulk commodities with not a cent of value added because “Brand New Zealand” will mean nothing or carries no premium.

So I will be honest with you, using 10 year old pictures to represent the 2018 fisheries industry is not only dishonest, but incredibly damaging. It does no good to forming constructive dialogue.

In light of your campaign around cameras, I am developing a paper to take to Cabinet on how we can implement cameras on fishing boats. My officials have started pre consultation with key stakeholders on what this might look like, how it may work, what the issues are, and what the solutions may look like.

I have met with Forest and Bird officials to discuss my plans and so your organisation is aware that cameras is a project I would like to pursue.

But I do want to emphasise that there is a very important process that we have to go through before anything can occur. Most importantly I need to convince my Cabinet colleagues that there is a case to answer.  If I can’t convince my Cabinet colleagues, then I will never be able to convince the people of New Zealand.

So bear with me because for Ministers, and for this government, following a proper process and consulting with my colleagues and coalition partners is of vital importance.

I want to conclude by saying that the officials and Fisheries New Zealand are highly competent, and dedicated to achieving a vision that includes innovation and abundance, but change takes time.

Politically, things simply don’t happen overnight. You might be surprised by how long it does take. But nor will I require the men and women who support families, communities and our country, to implement wide ranging change without understanding their issues, concerns and challenges.

And then I am working with the industry to find solutions – both legislative and practical – in order to drive a transition. I am happy I can develop industry acceptance by a majority; and if not acceptance by all, then at least an understanding of why we are doing what we are doing, and what we are seeking to achieve.

Forest and Bird has an important role to play – if you want to – in helping to successfully drive change, but my plea to you is work constructively with myself, the industry, and officials.

Celebrate success when you see it and hold those to account when they deserve to be, but don’t characterise an industry by the actions of a few or the practices or the past.

Change is coming – I am making sure of that – and I absolutely believe that you will add more value if you are in the tent contributing, rather than outside throwing stones.

With that challenge issued, I am happy to take questions.