Seafood New Zealand Conference

Te Papa, Wellington


Tēnā tatou katoa. Thank you for the opportunity to open today’s conference.

The Seafood Conference is an important annual fixture that supports valuable discussion on the opportunities and challenges facing fisheries and aquaculture.

I would like to acknowledge the organisers and sponsors of today’s conference. You have put together a great agenda of interesting and important issues.

The theme of today’s conference “Our promise, Our people” is about how to enhance the value, and ensure the ongoing sustainability, of our fisheries. This is very topical, especially considering some of the conversations I have been having and correspondence I have received.

New Zealand’s commercial fishing industry has arguably the biggest role to play in meeting responsibilities for our oceans and its resources.

As Minister of Fisheries, I would like to believe that we as a nation lead by this government, can have a positive impact by:

  • making sure we act on opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of fisheries;
  • promoting New Zealand’s global brand as a sustainable and high quality seafood provider; and
  • building New Zealanders’ trust and confidence in our fisheries management system.
  • encouraging innovative fishing practices in the water and on-board vessels to support more productive and higher value commercial fishing;

You see, this is what the industry wants, and in a number of cases is working hard to achieve – but I often get the impression that there is a way to go before you get the buy-in from the general public.


For me, innovation is key to building a fisheries management system that is fit for purpose by taking advantage of 21st Century technology in a way that adds value right across the supply chain: from the fish you catch to the consumer’s plate.

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 that I understand we are about to hear more about in the next session, 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.

This demonstrates that focusing on sustainability and innovation isn’t just the right thing to do but is actually good business sense. As societal expectations change, the challenge for commercial fishers is how do you maintain a social licence to operate when every lad in school is being taught about ecosystems based management?

First of all you lead the conversation in a way that engages. But if words aren’t backed up by actions, the public will hold you to account. And like politicians, you will all be tainted by the inappropriate or illegal or unethical actions of the few.  And in most cases these days, perceptions of consumers’ and of markets, is the public’s reality.

Fisheries NZ – or probably more so MPI – has such a perception problem; not helped by a certain individual releasing historical documents periodically that paint both you and me in a very bad light. So what I have instructed my officials to do is release all documents relating to fishing created this century. Draw a line under the past and move forward.

The Seafood Promise

The Government’s objectives have much in common with the Seafood Promise.

To me, ‘The Seafood Promise’ is a positive demonstration of your commitment to healthy ocean ecosystems, and I would like to recognise the importance of this commitment and congratulate you and the rest of the industry on successfully identifying that there is an issue that needs addressing. You are ahead of the Forest Industry in this, although they are lucky in that climate change is leading perception change in society there.

Industry taking the lead and establishing the code of conduct, sends a strong message to everyone, including the general public, of how seriously you take your role in protecting New Zealand’s marine environment.

As with any commitment, and as alluded to, the key thing is to deliver on it. As a former GM of marketing and a business strategist in one of my previous lives, I am well aware that demonstrating that the promise is being kept will be critical, or else it has the potential to back-fire and destroy a brand rather than to enhance and create value. 

And luckily, we are here to help.


As a Government, we have recently made our own promise – to do things differently when it comes to fisheries.

The launch of Fisheries New Zealand to strengthen the focus on fisheries was our first step.

Doing things differently means greater engagement with stakeholders, including you, better identification of challenges, and a focus on developing and implementing 21st century solutions.

My vision is for Fisheries New Zealand to become an enabler; a solution provider; an organisation that seeks to work in collaboration with a full range of stakeholders to find answers to the challenges facing the fishing sector and the marine environment.

Success lies in our ability to manage fisheries sustainably through investment in robust science and collaborating to find innovative solutions.

It is this kind of can do attitude and commitment to environmentally responsible practices that will continue to drive global demand for our seafood and build Brand New Zealand.

I want to acknowledge recent developments to promote Brand New Zealand. The ‘New Zealand Story’, is a campaign that promotes our amazing food and beverage globally. It is important for all of us to not only tell our stories but uphold our values by constantly improving and innovating.

Some say that enhancing and creating value through rebranding with a more aligned set of attributes, or seeking out different markets that value alternative attributes is too difficult, but I disagree, and the evidence actually backs me up. 

But of course, the way you market your products is up to you.  The way you fish your products is something that I, as Minister, rather than as a businessman, am much more interested in.

From a commercial perspective, a healthy brand makes for better economic performance, and enhances our overall value proposition. Failure to protect and advance our brand through effective investment, and use of science, could dampen the economic engine that we rely on for forward looking investment into the industry.

We can do things better, if we work together and try harder to understand each other’s perspectives.

We all want the same thing and that is healthy oceans with plenty of fish in them. Recently I issued a challenge to stakeholders at the Forest and Bird Conference to work constructively with myself, the industry, and officials to drive positive change and foster a culture of innovation.

My challenge to you is the same: to participate in this change, 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. But it is critical that all views, all voices, have a space to speak and an opportunity to be heard.

Better Information

A key element to improving value and sustainability of our fisheries is the provision of information that is accurate, timely and verifiable.

Digital monitoring is a key mechanism to ensure key decisions are based on high quality information.

The roll out of electronic catch and position reporting is underway, and is providing near real-time data on all trawl vessels larger than 28 metres. This covers 70 percent of overall catch in New Zealand.

Electronic catch and position reporting will be extended to the rest of the commercial fishing fleet and land-based fishers, beginning later this year.

As you know, I will be making decisions on sustainability measures for a range of fish stocks, including Tarakihi, for the start of the next fishing year on 1 October.  These are hard decisions and rest assured that I do not take them lightly.  When faced with changing TACs etc that have an impact on many of you in this room I am required to use the best available information.

Anything we can do to strengthen that information makes for better decision making. The lack of verifiable information makes my role exceptionally difficult, because I know that decisions I make can affect the livelihood of men and women who work hard to feed their family and provide work for their community.

The information provided from all aspects of digital monitoring and 21st Century technology will strengthen our fisheries management system. Improved information will:

  • Increase our knowledge of fish stocks, the marine environment, and commercial fishing activity
  • Allow for greater transparency, and this is being increasingly demanded by New Zealand and international consumers,
  • Enable Fisheries New Zealand to better support research and the work of stakeholders, including yourselves,
  • Allow for more responsive decision-making,
  • Assist New Zealand’s move towards a more ecosystem-based fisheries management approach in the future.

I am very well aware that there are key policy areas that must be sorted before we can move forward in a way that really adds value. 

I am committed to sorting out the deemed value regime, the dumping and discard rules and the penalties currently within the Act before we start implementing, for example, cameras.  So while conversation and consultation and dialogue may take a little longer than the slam dunk of the legislation sledge hammer, the outcomes are invariably better and more enduring.  My immediate challenge is to debunk much of the misinformation floating around and masquerading as truth.  It is unhelpful and dangerous.

Closing remarks

In light of the today’s theme, it is my promise to you, and all New Zealanders, to actively work alongside our Treaty Partners and stakeholders to ensure that New Zealand’s fisheries continue to be at the forefront of global fisheries best practice: environmentally, socially and economically. I ask that you do the same.

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 rocks.

Thank you once again for inviting me here today. The day’s programme looks very interesting and I am sure it will produce robust conversation. I look forward to working with you all in ensuring a bright future for our fisheries.