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Minister wants consultation and change

Monday 18 December 2017

New Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash is more intent on dealing with the pressing issues around New Zealand’s seafood resource than establishing a stand-alone ministry.

In an exclusive interview with Seafood New Zealand three weeks after being named minister, Nash stressed his wish to consult with all “key stakeholders’’ and get on with a programme of change, making evidence-based decisions.

He said he:

·        intends to set up an interim fisheries business unit under the Ministry for Primary Industries umbrella. It might be permanent, rather than starting a separate fisheries ministry.

·        will begin fresh consultation on electronic monitoring.

·        is likely to review the Quota Management System, again with wide consultation.

·        supports more aquaculture in principle, but not at the expense of New Zealand’s values and image.

·        sees moving research and administrative headquarters to the regions as a possibility.

·        is sympathetic to the idea of one national organisation representing the recreational sector.

Nash earned early points from the seafood industry – and brickbats from some conservationists – by quickly moving to delay the implementation of the IEMRS (Integrated Electronic Monitoring and Reporting System) on smaller commercial fishing vessels.

But he is a strong believer in new technology, and said he wanted to champion all fisheries interests – commercial, recreational, iwi, and NGO – without favouring one ahead of another.

“We all want the same thing – rec guys, commercial guys, iwi or whatever – which is an abundant fish stock sustainably managed from now into the future. There’s no disagreement, it’s just how we get there and what level of research we need in order to make informed decisions, and then how we implement those decisions.”

As Labour’s former forestry spokesman, Nash’s dealings with the seafood industry have until now been in Hawke’s Bay, where he is Napier MP.  A recreational fisherman in the take-the-kids-fishing mode, he has a lapsed membership of the Hawke’s Bay Game Fishing Club “not because I’m a game fisherman, but because it’s a fantastic place to go down and have a beer and talk to the locals and find out what’s going on, and just relax”.  He goes fishing at the family’s North Island holiday spot and caught his most recent fish last summer.

He said he’d done quite a bit from the political perspective in Hawke’s Bay, where past overfishing was acknowledged, organising a group that met to discuss concerns about fish stocks – mayors, commercial inshore fishers, the recreational lobby group LegaSea, the regional council and iwi.

“We all sat round and said okay, there’s an issue here, we know this, the fish are disappearing, we don’t know why – whether it’s the 10 million tonnes of silt into Hawke Bay every year, whether it’s overfishing, whether it’s the fact that fish have just changed their migratory patterns, or what it is.  We all agreed that we need some research, but we also agreed that there’s got to be a vision for abundant fisheries. A group has been formed which has been quite pro-active in what we do.”

Nash said the commercial fishermen had made concessions around no-go zones in Hawke Bay but there remained “a little bit of distrust, if I’m honest”.

“The recreational guys believe that some of the commercial guys are overfishing it. There’s an inherent understanding that people need to make a living, but there’s also a belief that there’s room in Hawke Bay for everyone – the commercial and the rec guys.”

His perception was that the group’s work had made the relationship a lot better, he said.

Knowing there were similar issues and tensions all around New Zealand, he said decisions should be based on properly-researched evidence. 

As minister, who would he be championing?

“Everyone.

“Let me start off by saying that there are acknowledged issues by every sector – around bycatch, around dumping and discarding, around the Quota Management System.  We need quotas, but you talk to the key stakeholders and most agree that it’s possibly time to have a re-look at the QMS and if it’s working and if it’s fit for purpose for the 21st century, and perhaps if it needs a little bit of a review.”

He wanted to work constructively and be forward-looking, the minister said.

“The recreational guys, the commercial guys and iwi all admit that the rules around bycatch just really aren’t working in the way they should … what we’ve got to do is work together and say okay, how can we move forward in a way that meets the requirements of every key stakeholder?

“In any decision you make, there’s always going to be some aggrieved person and someone who’s absolutely ecstatic, but if we don’t manage fisheries for the needs of all key stakeholders then I won’t have done my job properly.”

Nash said the industry produced a very valuable export crop, while “a whole lot of Kiwis” expected to throw a line over the side of a boat at the weekend and pull up a fish.

“If they’re not doing it, and the commercial guys aren’t catching their stuff, or if iwi can’t meet their expectations around customary catch, then we’re in a little bit of trouble. I think if you favour one sector over another, then you are just going to end up with tensions that in my view don’t need to exist, but the way you do this, is you go out and consult.”

He said he understood the industry’s privacy and cost concerns about IERMS, and had asked officials to come up with innovative software and hardware solutions that would work properly at sea.

“If a bloke is 10 nautical miles off the coast and he’s trying to enter data into a device where the software is just not working, we know where that device is going to end up – it’s probably 10 metres off the bow.

 “I do believe there’s almost an obligation to take advantage of technology when it comes along and makes all of our jobs easier – but there’s also an obligation to make sure that technology is fit for purpose and has the buy-in of a sector that is probably not used to using technology.”

Nash said that under the previous National-led government, dairy farmers got really good service from MPI, dry stock farmers “not too bad” but fisheries and forestry “just didn’t get a look in”.

Along with Forestry Minister Shane Jones and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, he didn’t want to reach the beginning of 2020 having spent two years squabbling about structuring new ministries.  So they were setting up autonomous business units within MPI.

“It is an interim measure, until we start dealing with the substantive issues and get some runs on the board.”

Asked what those issues were, he said that first and foremost the negative perception of the industry had to change.

“Again, I think that coming up with solutions to the issues that are identified by Seafood New Zealand, like the rules around bycatch, around dumping, around deemed value, the way we’re going to sort these out in a way that meets the expectations of the community, as well as meets the requirements of commercial fishers, is a really big issue.”

His own view of the industry was that it was full of incredibly hard-working men and women who were trying to make a living, and often in dangerous and uncomfortable situations.

“We need to ensure that they can continue to do that, but we also need to ensure that the industry moves with the 21st centuryThere are dodgy buggers in the industry, just as there are dodgy buggers in the legal industry, in the medical sector, in the priesthood, politics maybe – but my view is let’s not define the industry by the one or two rogues that we read about in the press.

“That’s why I’ve said that, anything I do in this space, I’m really keen to engage with the commercial sector and work pro-actively about how we can address their concerns, as well as society’s concerns. I’m determined to do that.”

Nash said recreational fishers didn’t have the voice they needed in government, and he was keen to champion a recognised body to represent them.  One of its roles would be to write a recreational fishing policy, because there wasn’t one yet.

“A sector is always much more effective if there is one body speaking on behalf of that sector.

What I’m not going to do is go after the commercial guys and say that the rec guys can do whatever they want.  We all need to take a good hard look at how things are being done.  But I’m also not going to say, okay commercial guys, you go out and do exactly what you want, because I’m going after the rec guys. 

“There is a balancing act here, and I would like to think that in three years’ time when we’re talking about progress to date, that we’ve made progress across all sectors.

“I will know I’ve done my job if everyone says ‘Well shivers, we had concerns, but the level of consultation and how it’s rolled out has been in a way that’s exceeded our expectations’.”

Asked his view on growing aquaculture, Nash said this had huge potential.

“Our memorandum of understanding with New Zealand First is very clear around regional economic development – we want to see jobs and we want to see value added.  But having said that, we’re not going to just approve aquaculture licences in an area which is totally and utterly unsuited.

“Let’s explore all the opportunities and if it works, let’s get it up and running.”

He likened his view to the prohibition on mining the conservation estate.

“I don’t think we should allow aquaculture in areas that undermine the image we’re sending to the world.”

And he didn’t shut the door on relocating government services to the regions – moving NIWA’s Wellington science centre from Greta Point to Nelson, for example -  pointing out that he’d advocated shifting the Government’s forestry headquarters from Wellington to Rotorua during his years as Labour’s forestry spokesman. 

“I’m sympathetic to the idea.  It’s not in my high priority list of things to do, but it’s certainly not off the table.

“These are decisions we’re really keen to look at, but in the meantime let’s get some work programmes underway, let’s address the pressing issues.”

 

Read reaction to the change in Government from industry leaders:

TALLEY: NEW FISHERIES SETUP "SENSIBLE POLICY REFORM"

ROSEWARNE: CONTINUED PROGRESS IN BIOSECURITY VITAL

ELLISON: ENGAGEMENT KEY TO MOVING FORWARD KEY ISSUES

KUNTZSCH: SINGLE FOCUS ON FISHERIES A POSITIVE

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