• John Luxton
Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control


Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for inviting me here today to what has to be the biggest and most prestigious annual gathering of the fishing industry in New Zealand. For an industry where communication is vital, this Seafood Week event has become a very progressive initiative.

When I stood before your conference this time last year the main message of my speech that day was the need for us to build on, and develop further, the approach we already have available to us to ensure the sustainable and responsible use of our fisheries. I called for a closer co-operative effort between stakeholders to ensure the continued and progressive development of our fisheries resources.

I also asked that we move on from the platform of a decade of working under the Quota Management System and look towards the new millennium with a firm understanding of what sustainable utilisation means to each sector group.

It is critical that we look to the future with as much vision as was shown by those who introduced the QMS. We must work to create a healthy and sustainable fishery which supports an economically sound and internationally competitive industry.

Today I wish to report on the progress made in the last twelve months.

It is very apt, therefore, that the theme of this years conference is about challenges and self management. There have been and will continue to be significant challenges for both the Crown and stakeholders in the area of sustainable fisheries management, particularly in the area of self management.

The importance of fisheries
Let us first remind the rest of New Zealand about the importance of our fisheries to all New Zealanders.

The commercial industry has come a long way in the last 30 years. In 1965 fishing earned New Zealand $5.3 million dollars in exports, which in today's dollars would be about $60 million. That figure has risen to $1.2 billion, a 20 fold increase, plus another $125 million in domestic sales. Back then there were just under two thousand people employed; now it's over ten thousand people.

Then the industry largely focused on the inshore fishery with some activity in oysters and rock lobster. Now we have the Exclusive Economic Zone, the fifth largest in the world, and nearly 18 hundred vessels involved in fishing, many in the deepwater fisheries. Back then, the term Orange Roughy was unknown. In the 1960's and 1970's we mined the sea, and there was an almost total concentration on getting as much volume as we could.

Environmental concerns were practically unheard of, and were scarcely heeded anyway. Maori participation in the industry was low, except for the inshore fishery, and there was no real management plan for the industry.

Now there are over 180 stocks in the QMS system. This represents 85 % of total known fish catch in the EEZ and more will be brought into the system over the next two to three years or so.

But our fisheries are more than a bottom line on a balance sheet - they are an important source of social, cultural and economic well-being in our society.

Maori have long standing customary ties with fisheries and these are recognised in law. An estimated one in five New Zealanders are recreational fishers and their interest must be recognised and protected.

As Minister, I must weigh up all these aspects of use and the various interests against the ongoing sustainability of the resource. Likewise there is an increasing understanding of marine science and the ecosystem of the seas. My goal must be to balance these activities and the ongoing sustainability of what is a fragile resource.

Sustainability has never been the easiest concept to pin down. A good working definition is "satisfying current needs in a way that doesn't jeopardise the prospects of future generations." Neither, might I add, will a sustainable management system be cheap.

It challenges us to remember that we are not managing the fisheries resource for the next quarter. We are safeguarding it for our children -- and their children. This is where the real importance lies.

The Challenge of Self Management
As I said, it is very apt that the theme of this conference is self management. It is certainly the topic of the moment.

But what does self management mean and how can it be achieved? Firstly, self management does not mean turning away from the principles of sustainable fisheries management. On the contrary, under a self management regime these principles must be openly embraced.

Secondly, self management means taking account and taking responsibility for the views of all those with a stake in the fishery. Experience tells me the real challenge for the commercial industry will be to combine their views more effectively and speak more often with one voice. This means that more effort is needed by industry groups to involve all relevant players. They must be inclusive, not exclusive and take account of minority views. Thirdly, in last weeks Budget the Government announced that it was giving Producer Boards the opportunity to come back on 15 November this year with plans for operating without statutory backing. Seafic, currently funded through the Fishing Industry Board, also needs to look at its options. The non trading boards are likely to want to operate under the Commodity Levies Act, and I would suspect your industry may wish to look in that direction as well. However it is up to you, but I do encourage you to make progress in this area this year.

But first of all, for self management to take effect, the Crown must provide the right environment.

My concern has always been that the current fisheries management regime does not sufficiently allow commercial fishers to be as responsible as they could be for managing more of their own business, nor does it let industry become as efficient and, consequently as internationally competitive as it might be.

Current commercial arrangements also fail to provide incentives for industry to apply a responsible management approach to the wider aquatic environment, nor do they give New Zealand the best return from the commercial use of its fisheries.

As Minister of Fisheries I acknowledged earlier in the year the need to allow the commercial industry to fully realise its potential by being given the opportunity to manage some of the services currently carried out by the Crown. This concept was loosely referred to as devolution.

I am pleased to report that progress to a more devolved management environment has been significant over the last twelve months.

My Ministry ?s release of a comprehensive discussion paper late last year on commercial fisheries management reform created significant interest amongst all stakeholders and the quality of the submissions received has reflected this.

The result was an options paper I presented to my cabinet colleagues in March this year the key recommendations of which gained their endorsement.

In line with this, after twelve months as Minister of Fisheries, over the Christmas break I concluded that the legislation under which this industry is administered is far too prescriptive and control too centralised.

Myself as Minister and the CEO have to decide what services to provide, who should pay, and then administer the justice system in the sector as well. And some might say there is a requirement to consult everyone into submission, but is there more sense of ownership in the outcomes?

As a result , I have with the Ministry's assistance instituted a review of the Fisheries Act 1996 and its implementation to ensure that whilst the principles of the Act are retained, that responsibilities can be further devolved and that we do begin to focus on sorting the wheat from the chaff. That is focusing on that which matters and not on bureaucratic rules for their own sake.

Again, I am pleased to say that the undertaking of this review is well in hand and, as announced in March, I fully expect the Act review process to be completed by September.

Customary Fishing Regulations
Self management extends beyond commercial considerations however. As you all will be aware significant energy has been expended over the last five years to develop a set of comprehensive customary Maori fishing regulations as a requirement of the Deed of Settlement signed by the government in 1992 in order to free up the commercial fishery from continuing litigation on Maori rights.

Progress over the last year has been commendable with a working set of regulations now operating in the South Island. A process is in place which will see the same happening in the North Island. I have heard a number of exaggerated suggestions as to the likely outcome of these regulations from some in the commercial and recreational sectors.

For those critics who look at how far they might be stretched, lets see how they operate. If abused then I as Minister am able to stop or amend the process's intended under the regulation.

In my mind Maori fishers are bound by the commercial rules if there is money or trade involved just as the remainder of the commercial fishing sector. Those who fish recreationally are also bound by the same rules as recreational fishers. The better regulation of customary right is something different again. It should prevent alleged abuses and give better information and control in this sector.

Cost Recovery
I would now like to turn attention to a topic of great interest to probably all here - cost recovery and the need to continue to control the costs imposed on the industry in the process.

I was pleased to receive the report from the Primary Production Select Committee. I am aware of the substantial effort required from the committee to bring together the divergent views contained in the large number of submissions received.

In the midst of this review of course Government announced plans for the devolution of certain fisheries services to the fishing industry. In my view this will provide the true long term solution to industry concerns over the cost of managing our fisheries resources.

In the shorter term however, I am still awaiting a report from officials on how more immediate relief can be provided as identified and discussed in the select committee report. I know my officials have been speaking with industry representatives to identify what opportunity there is for shorter term reforms.

However, I must make it absolutely clear that the costs caused by the commercial fishing industry will continue to be charged to the industry via some type of levy system. What is important is the level of that cost and that it is applied in such a manner as to provide the right incentives to allow industry - and other stakeholders - to take greater responsibility for the management of our fishing resources.

At the end of the day there is always going to cost the industry to operate such a sophisticated system as the QMS. The key outcome is to ensure it has the appropriate inbuilt incentives to optimise the system and their costs.

Trade Liberalisation
Taking greater responsibility for the resource will hopefully mean, at the end of the day, greater returns for the fishing industry and those it employs. This will only truly happen, however, if we can convince our trading partners to liberalise their trading conditions, and better recognise their consumers interests.

Trading with heavily protected economies does not yield long term sustainable commercial results to either economy, hence this governments push for freer trade access.

It is for this reason that we are continuing to put emphasis on our participation at international fora including APEC, WTO, FAO and OECD. Only through constant and continued pressure can we hope to focus other countries on the trade distortions that exist through their use of tariffs and other internal support mechanisms.

It is my hope that we can make trading partners understand that to have Governments underwriting their fishing industries leads to overcapitalisation which in turn impacts on the true bottom line - the sustainability of the fishing resource. New Zealand is recognised as a world leader and the ?model? of how a progressive, distortion free, fisheries management system can be applied across all sector groups.

There are already encouraging signs that, internationally, the wheels are turning on trade protectionism amongst APEC member countries.

At the APEC meeting in Subic Bay in November 1996, APEC Ministers were instructed to identify sectors where early liberalisation could have a positive impact on trade, investment and growth of APEC economies and regions.

Subsequently at Vancouver last November, APEC leaders agreed on a balanced and mutually beneficial package of nine sectors for early, voluntary liberalisation. Fish products was one of the nine.

At the time, the benefit of a liberalisation of access-barriers to key Asia-Pacific markets for fish products was estimated as being approximately $32 million. In reality we know it would be much more than this. There are obvious beneficial flow on effects that would accrue throughout the economy, stimulating growth, economic activity and employment.

By being active participants at the meetings I mentioned above our hope is to create increasing pressure so that the WTO will address world trade liberalisation of fish products. Our work at APEC is already bringing that pressure to bear. We hope to make further progress in this are over the next few months

In conclusion, I am pleased that we have made progress on several fronts over the last year. There are however still many challenges and opportunities that I hope all involved in our important fishing industry will work constructively to overcome.