Speech to Conference of Federation of Commercial Fishermen

Kia ora koutou, I would like to begin by extending Minister Parker’s apologies for not being able to be here today. The Minister has asked me to speak to you today on his behalf.

I am very excited to have the opportunity to meet with you all and talk about the Ocean and Fisheries portfolio and vision – thank you for having me.

As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister responsible for Oceans and Fisheries, I am mindful of the great importance fishing holds for our economy and society. I have had a long interest and passion for the industry, having been a part of it in my previous roles working for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu within its seafood businesses and as Labour’s spokesperson on fisheries.

Our oceans and fisheries are a taonga to be shared by all and nurtured for future generations, and it is it is clear is that a healthy marine environment is in the interest of all New Zealanders.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that the health of the marine environment is dependent on many factors, some of which are less understood than others.

As our knowledge builds, and we strive to incorporate that understanding into our oceans and fisheries management, we will inevitably be required to strike a balance between what is to the benefit of each.

However, while finding this balance is necessary, it might not be easy to achieve.

Both wild-caught fisheries and aquaculture contribute significantly to our economy and have a strong regional presence, boosting jobs and sustaining communities. Commercial fishing alone contributes $4.2 billion per year in total economic activity, including $1.4 billion in export revenue for the year ended June 2020, and about 13,500 jobs.

Members of your federation are a vital part of this success story. 

While the current fisheries management system is suited to managing our commercial fisheries, times have changed, and our fisheries management also needs to change to serve our oceans and fisheries in a holistic way. We need to continue to improve environmental performance and respond to the cumulative pressures on the marine environment, such as climate change and land-based effects. Changing how fisheries are managed will meet the expectations of communities and those who draw meaning and identity from our oceans and fisheries, while affirming the rights afforded by the Treaty of Waitangi.

As commercial fishers, you also have a responsibility to support a healthy marine environment. And a healthy marine environment makes good business sense. Sustainable and healthy fisheries are crucial for the success of your businesses, especially with the increasing demanding from consumers for demonstrated sustainability. 

COVID-19 has shown how starkly dependent some aspects of the commercial fishing sector is on foreign workers and I understand you have an industry transition plan to reduce this reliance. I am aware, and supportive of the ongoing work to develop a capable domestic workforce with sufficient capacity to meet current and future needs, and I look forward to seeing ongoing progress on this matter.

For managing the fisheries themselves, I am keen to work with you to modernise fishing practices in order to drive sustainability and economic returns, and I’m committed to increasing our level of sophistication in terms of ecosystem-based management. The government is particularly focused on protected species, reducing seafloor and benthic impacts, better understanding and managing land-based effects on the marine environment, and rebuilding stocks that have been over-fished.

I am also interested in improving the agility of how we manage our fisheries, particularly through the improved access and use of data.

By taking a strategic approach, there is an opportunity to ensure New Zealand can be world leading in fisheries management, and I believe the aspirations in this portfolio will improve the way catch limits are set, respond better and more quickly to changes in fish abundance, and give greater certainty to stakeholders.

As you know, the Government has committed to more cameras on fishing boats. The cameras rollout is subject to a business case and consultation. These steps will help determine the details, including technical options, cost structures, and the timeline for the rollout.

Underpinning all those elements is innovation, and I want to recognise the considerable efforts already underway that will result in significant sustainability and economic improvements across the whole seafood sector. We’ve seen some great innovation to support sustainable practices in our wild fisheries and aquaculture such as improvements in fish catching technology, use of information technology, and new and novel products and approach to reduce waste.

It’s important that innovation and technology continue to drive the fishing sector and MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund is a key tool for supporting the sector to do this.

Each year, $40 million is made available for proposals of any size and scope, on a co-investment basis, so I encourage you to consider any ways you can work with partners under this scheme.

I have a strong support for those who work in the seafood industry and believe it’s important that we optimise the value of our fisheries and the returns they provide to our communities and economy. This includes ensuring that the system is fair and that the efforts of those who work in the sector, the people who actually head out on the water and do the work, are recognised and fairly rewarded.

To achieve this vision, we need to ensure that our seafood whānau is well supported and resilient. To assist with this, the Government allocated COVID-19 Recovery Funding to establish a Seafood Sector Support Network, which you will hear about in more detail shortly. I am pleased to see that the seafood sector will have a similar support structure to those that exist in other primary industries.

The Network is a great example of a positive initiative driven by collaboration between the government and the seafood industry. For the Network to stand the greatest change of achieving positive outcomes, it must be led by the commercial seafood whānau, for the seafood whānau, and provide appropriate and effective support, tailored to the unique needs of our sector.

I look forward to seeing the positive impact this Network has for individuals and whānau.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today and outline some of the aspirations I have for the Oceans and Fisheries portfolio. I am really interested in hearing your views and look forward to a strong and productive relationship with the seafood sector as we move ahead.