Speech to the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen annual conference.

Oceans and Fisheries

Tena koutou katoa and thank you, Mayor Nadine Taylor, for your welcome to Marlborough.

Thanks also Doug Saunders-Loder and all of you for inviting me to your annual conference.

As you might know, I’m quite new to this job – and I’m particularly pleased that the first organisation I’m giving a speech to is one that says its central job is caring for coastal communities.

Because that’s what matters to me too.

A long time ago, when I was studying marine ecology, I learnt that communities are at the heart of everything.

Communities of animals and plants in the sea and on the land, and communities of people.

Acknowledging that everything fits together – that everything we do affects everything else – is essential.

That what we do on the land affects what happens in the sea.

And that everything we do at sea affects whether the oceans will continue to support not only a healthy, productive seafood sector, but that they can also keep supplying so many things that are essential for us – from the oxygen we breathe to the fish and chips we eat on Friday nights.

They give us jobs – in tourism as well as in fishing and aquaculture – and they give us food.

They are the scene of a lot of our recreation and are part of our culture.

They regulate our climate and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide.

To put it plainly, I see my job as making sure they can keep doing all those things – and keep you fishing.

Current challenges facing the seafood sector

As you know, it’s not always easy.

You’re not alone in that – times are tough for many New Zealanders.

That’s why the Government is so focused on tackling the cost of living by putting money back into people’s pockets, with things like cheaper childcare and free prescriptions.

Our no-frills Budget is easing the pressure on families who are under the pump just now - without driving up inflation.

The covid years were challenging – particularly for the seafood sector, because we New Zealanders tend to eat fish out, at takeaways or in restaurants, rather than cook it at home.

Overseas, demand from restaurants was also down.

Export prices are starting to stabilise now, and the sector is recovering.

Seafood exports have returned to pre-covid levels, and are forecast to grow four per cent this year, to nearly $2 billion.

Yesterday, our new free-trade agreement with the United Kingdom came into force.

The unprecedented access to the UK market it gives our exporters will probably add a billion dollars a year to our GDP.

For your sector, that means fish exports to the UK are now tariff-free and the 20 per cent tariff on mussels will be gone in three years.

Overall, that means 46 per cent of our fish and seafood that will enter the UK trade over the coming year will not face any tariffs.

And after three years, it will be 99.5 per cent – and that means increasing returns for your businesses.

These positive developments in international trade are good news, but many of you will not be feeling the benefits yet.

It is tough for a number of seafood businesses right now, and I know that smaller fishing operators in particular face challenges like rising costs, the impacts of the way we use land on the marine ecosystem; and difficulties getting access to skilled staff.

We are also starting to feel the effects of climate change first-hand, with marine heatwaves and wild weather.

Some of you here will have been affected by Cyclone Gabrielle and the extreme weather events New Zealand has had over the past few months. 

Last month, the Government announced a further $45.55 million in Budget 2023 to support the recovery of rural communities affected by the North Island weather events, including Cyclone Gabrielle. 

This money will be available to all primary industries, including fishing, to help businesses and communities get back on their feet.

The Ministry of Primary Industries is taking expressions of interest now – and information is available on the MPI website.

Regulatory changes

I want to talk now about regulatory changes.

There have been big changes over the past couple of years to the way we manage fisheries.

Things like on-board cameras and new rules about which fish you have to land.

The regulations that will implement these legal changes are under way.

Dealing with change like this isn’t always easy.

But we have to do it – not only to protect the oceans and make sure we have healthy, productive fisheries in the future, but also because the supermarkets that sell our fish and the people who buy it are demanding it.

New Zealand has led the way in sustainable fisheries management, but we can’t rest on our laurels.

We know that consumers here and overseas are becoming more discerning and it’s up to us to make sure we can meet those demands.

Last year, we passed changes to the Fisheries Act that do that.

I understand there are some concerns about how these new rules will be implemented, particularly about what happens to unwanted catch.

The regulations are intended to encourage the use of fishing methods that minimise damage and maximise the use - and value - of your catch.

Since becoming the Minister, I have been pleased to see the effort you’re making to fish more selectively – whether you’re tweaking your gear or changing your fishing practices.

This is something the public doesn’t often see.

There is still work to do on some of ways the regulations will implemented.

Fisheries New Zealand officials are here today and will be able to tell you more about that.

Industry Transformation Plan and innovation

But changing rules and regulations will only get us so far.

Innovation from the people who do the work at sea will be critical to making sure we are ready to face the challenges that are coming.
 A few weeks ago, I invited people to give feedback on the draft Fisheries Industry Transformation Plan. 

Its aim is to make more money from what we catch, create more jobs and protect the environment.

It was put together by representatives of the fishing industry working with environmental groups, iwi representatives, unions and the food sector.

There are lots of ideas in it, but we’re keen to hear more, and I encourage you to make a submission before they close on the 11th of June.

Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund

Another area where good work is being done is through the Government’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund.

It’s supported 40 seafood and aquaculture projects since 2018, including:

  • Finding high-value uses for seaweed
  • Creating sustainable packaging to replace polystyrene for transporting fresh seafood
  • Turning thousands of tonnes of mussel shells into valuable calcium carbonate for use in industrial products.

Next week, I’m hosting the Seafood Sustainability Awards in Parliament, recognising some of the talented individuals and groups leading the way in innovation and sustainability.

I want to acknowledge the high calibre of entrants– it reflects very well on you and on the seafood sector.

Working together

But as well as innovation, we also need to make sure that we are working together. Fortunately, there are already plenty of work under way as examples of what we can jointly achieve. 

Last month Otago fishers, supported by Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, stepped forward with a set of voluntary measures in response to the capture of a Hector’s dolphin off the coast of Otago. 

The measures, which include a temporary closure to set-netting in the area the dolphin was caught, will help make sure the Fishing Related Mortality Limit for Hector’s dolphin in Otago waters is not exceeded.

Last month. I was able to formally approve under the Fisheries Act, two industry-led plans for pāua fisheries - one for this area at the top of the South Island, and another for the bottom of the South Island (including Rakiura).

The pāua industry has worked hard to build consensus and a strong vision for these fisheries, which often operate in a highly visible part of the coast. 

Approved plans are now in place across all major pāua fisheries in the South Island and the Chatham Islands.

I’m expecting advice shortly on a plan for the final commercial area, across the lower North Island.

Closer to home, concerns about the health of the popular blue cod fishery in the Marlborough Sounds have led to the formation of a group made up of commercial fishers, recreational and customary experts and Fisheries New Zealand.

While some of the concerns are about wider environmental changes in the Sounds, the group is focused on ensuring all sectors are fishing responsibly to allow numbers of blue cod to rebuild over time.

I am looking forward to getting their recommendations later this year, and commend the commercial fishing sector for your collaborative approach.

It is encouraging to hear stories like this – of fishers working together and using local know-how to solve problems that are good for you and good for the ocean.

I’ve recently been alerted to decreasing levels of observer coverage in fisheries targeting inshore and surface longline fisheries, because of inadequate watchkeeping practices.

Observers play an important role in the fisheries system and support public trust and confidence in the industry.

I know that the industry is grappling with Maritime New Zealand’s clarification of watchkeeping rules, and I want to acknowledge those who have stepped up and made changes to accommodate watchkeeping and observer coverage.

The response from operators has, however, been mixed, and I am asking for your collective cooperation to achieve observer coverage.


Oceans are an essential part of being a New Zealander.

Our four-million-square-mile marine area is 15 times the size of our land area. Even our most inland places are not much more than 100 kilometres from the sea.

Healthy and resilient oceans benefit not just us, but also future generations, and I look forward to working with you to secure that future.

No reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou. Thank you and good morning.