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The truth about foreign fishing vessels and foreign crew

There are a lot of misconceptions around the use of foreign vessels or foreign crew operating in New Zealand waters. Sometimes these misconceptions are around foreign vessels fishing with their own foreign crew and sometimes they are about foreign crew members on New Zealand operated vessels. Let’s clear those misconceptions up. 

Foreign vessels, crewed by foreigners, working in New Zealand waters 

MYTH: Foreign fishing boats come into our waters and take all our fish. 

FACT: No foreign vessel can fish in New Zealand waters unless it is under the jurisdiction of New Zealand law – and they do that by fishing under the New Zealand flag. This was the result of a law change in 2013. This means foreign owned vessels must fish New Zealand quota and adhere to the strictly monitored Quota Management System, and all other New Zealand law. So, the fish they catch is only from sustainable stocks.  

MYTH: They still use cheap, foreign, slave labour. 

FACT: If a foreign owned vessel is fishing in New Zealand waters under the New Zealand flag, it must employ all its crew at the New Zealand minimum standard. So, they must pay their crew at least $4 per hour more than the minimum wage, they must ensure all New Zealand health and safety requirements are complied with, and they must obey all the laws of the country. 

Foreign crew working on New Zealand owned or operated vessels 

MYTH: They are taking jobs from keen Kiwis. 

FACT: Unemployment is at record low levels. Many industries, including others in the primary sector, will tell you finding people to work is extremely difficult. The horticulture industry relies on workers from the Pacific Islands and sometimes the fishing industry employs crew from overseas. With most Kiwis employed, and others not willing to work at sea or comply with strict drug and alcohol policies, we need to do this to ensure the fish is caught. And, if we don’t employ overseas crew to catch the fish, the New Zealanders in our fish processing factories would be out of jobs as well. Recently, experienced Russian and Ukrainian crew were flown into New Zealand to staff the largest vessels in New Zealand, the 104 metre-long BATMs.  

MYTH: You said they are paid at least our minimum wage, but a foreign crew member’s hours and conditions would not be the same as on a New Zealand-crewed boat? 

FACT: Hours and conditions will vary by vessel type, the fish being caught, and operator, rather than by the type of crew. While some vessels operate with almost 100 percent foreign crew there are many others that operate with a mix of New Zealand and foreign worker crew. All foreign crew must be paid the minimum wage plus at least $4 per hour on top of that. That’s the law. And they must be paid for a minimum of 42 hours every week with those wages deposited into a New Zealand bank account. 

MYTH: Don’t fishing operators take all sorts of other expenses out of their crew’s wages? 

FACT: No, they are not legally able to. The only legitimate deductions from a foreign crew member’s salary are for food – and for visa fees and airfares if the crew member’s employer paid them upfront. But - and this is the important ‘but’, none of those deductions can let the crew member’s wages fall below the New Zealand minimum wage. Food costs, which are legitimately taken out of a wage, cannot exceed 10 percent of the minimum wage. It is illegal to take any other expenses like accommodation, entertainment, health insurance, and protective clothing out of wages.  

MYTH: Vessel owners will just take advantage of foreign crew because of language barriers and because crew need the work badly. 

FACT: Every foreign crew member must have a New Zealand employment agreement that is written in English and in the crew member’s own language. This agreement outlines how much they will be paid, how this is calculated, and when and how it will be paid. This employment agreement also tells the crew member about a disputes process that they can access if any of the requirements of the employment contract are not met.