Rodney Hide: Govt wrong on snapper quota

HIDESIGHT National stands for one law for all but is busily developing two for fishing quota.

HIDESIGHT

The best that can be said about Fishing Minister Nathan Guy’s policy that all ships fishing New Zealand waters must be New Zealand flagged is that he has been badly advised.

The latest in the debacle of this policy is the minister agreeing to a series of exemptions with the select committee, including that vessels fishing a “significant proportion” of Treaty settlement quota won’t have to be New Zealand flagged until 2020.

The policy will apply to all other ships by 2016.

Exemptions wouldn’t be required if Mr Guy had not got the policy so wrong in the first place. The 2020 deal on Treaty quota flies in the face of National Party policy of affirming one standard of citizenship and equal treatment for all.

It also creates a significant legal minefield. But all that’s by the by, given the reason for the 2020 deal. Iwi have their quota in the exclusive economic zone fished by foreign-flagged vessels. Why? Because they’re cheaper and better.

Iwi tender for their quota to be caught and the foreign-flagged ships offer the best deal. That’s because their vessels are bigger, more sophisticated and the crew more experienced. Forcing iwi to fish their quota with New Zealand flagged ships will devalue their quota.

And there’s the problem with the policy. It will force up the costs of fishing New Zealand quota and potentially render the fishing of some quota uneconomic. The losses will be significant. The Maori Fisheries Trust told Parliament the policy could cost iwi $10 million a year.

It’s not just iwi who will be losing out. The entire country will, too. For example, the squid jig fishery is fished by two chartered Japanese vessels. These fish New Zealand waters between late December and early April, and then fish the “off season” in Japanese waters. It’s the only way the fishery can be fished economically.

The foreign chartered vessels provide capital, expertise and access to markets. For example, Aurora Fisheries explained to the select committee that for more than 20 years it chartered the Japanese Tomi Maru 87.

It is the only surimi production trawler in New Zealand and enables large volumes of low-value fish to be processed into high-value product. 

The TM87 is not a cheap vessel, having a 250-tonne-a-day desalination plant on board. 

The surimi product enters Japan duty-free and is marketed as the TM87 brand. The proposed re-flagging policy will crash the business and, again, leave the fish in the sea. 

Vessels such as this won’t magically be replaced with New Zealand vessels employing local crew because no such ships and no such crew exist.

The re-flagging proposal follows a ministerial inquiry into concerns about the treatment of crew, safety standards and compliance with fisheries and environmental regulations of foreign chartered vessels. 

The panel opposes re-flagging but all government departments support re-flagging because it enables them easy and greater control and, of course, that’s the purpose and aim of all bureaucrats.

It’s a strange world, politics. National stands for one law for all but is busily developing two for fishing quota. And National is rightly attacking Labour for xenophobia in promising to kick foreigners out of the housing market.

But at the same time, National is championing a policy to kick out foreign vessels working with New Zealand companies to maximise the value of our fishery resource.

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