The Minister for Oceans and Fisheries is asking us to contribute to New Zealand’s export-led recovery by delivering quality sustainable seafood to New Zealanders and to the rest of the world.  

This is great news, we love what we do and we want to keep doing it. The challenge is, we need more help.   

Right now, the industry directly employs around 12,500 people, and indirectly employs another 4,000. That’s a lot of people but it’s not enough.  

We know the fishing world is not for everyone but you’d be hard-pressed to find such a passionate and proud industry. 

Take Timaru-based fisher Nathan Hines for example. Nathan skippers Latham Bay, a 12m trawler, and has been in the industry for over 20 years. His love for what he does shone through in his The Update back in February.  

“Fishing is an awesome profession. I love it. I will do it for as long as I can,” says Nathan. “I do it because of the call of the sea. It’s the anticipation of the catch. It’s the same excitement as catching a big fish on a rod. Every time you haul up the bag, it’s exciting. It's also beautiful out there”. 

With comments like these and clear career pathways to well-paid jobs you’d think jobs on the water would be an easy sell but, it’s far from it. According to a recent workforce survey conducted by Seafood New Zealand, just over half of New Zealand seafood businesses are experiencing some level of workforce shortages.  

Diving a little deeper the survey showed that our smaller businesses (less than 50 people) operating in the inshore and deepsea sectors are experiencing the most severe shortages. Larger businesses are also experiencing shortages, but the impact is less severe. Crew, qualified deckhands, skippers, and engineers are the toughest to recruit. 

Of course, we can’t forget land-based jobs. Without hard-working people to process the fish, it goes nowhere. Seafood processing factories are also struggling to find people to do the mahi. While there are opportunities to train in different areas and to work your way up to leadership roles, factory jobs tend to be a harder sell.  

Recent changes to immigration rules for land-based seafood process workers under the sector agreement (under the AEWV scheme) have also made things a little more challenging.  

For factory roles, migrants will now need: at least 3 years’ relevant work experience, or a relevant qualification at level 4 or above on the New Zealand Qualifications and Credentials Framework (NZQCF); and to show that they can speak and understand English. Additional requirements also apply to employers. 

While the seafood industry is primarily made up of New Zealanders, we are supplemented by migrant workers. The reality is, without migrant workers, some businesses would cease to exist.  

So, how do we fix this? It must be a team effort.  

At our end, we’ve started to create some new resources. Over the coming months we’ll be sharing new career videos, an employers’ guide for attracting and retaining Gen Z, a new careers section on the Seafood New Zealand website with detailed training pathways and career information and resources for schools.   

We have also created visuals that show how to become a skipper and marine engineer and have developed a game for primary school kids that teaches them about the quota management system.  

We’ve been getting out and about, meeting with people. We attended the Mayor’s Taskforce for Jobs hui at the end of February, the Tasman Mission schools’ sustainability event in March, and will be at the upcoming NZ Careers Expo with Inzone in May. 

As for the immigration side of things, we're meeting with the Minister of Immigration shortly and are working to progress a review of the sector agreement.  

None of this can be fixed overnight but we hope that over time we can build and retain a skilled workforce where people feel more strongly connected to industry and proud of the part they play. This is the workforce we need to be able to deliver for all of New Zealand.