Backtracking on fishing boat camera’s is a cop out


Minister of Fisheries, Stuart Nash is having second thoughts about installing cameras on fishing boats following criticism from the industry. His change of heart comes after a letter accusing him of reacting to hysteria is made known to the public.

This is a cop out. The fisheries industry is simply scared that the many claims of bad practices, maltreatment of staff and non-compliance with regulations around reporting catches will be found out and that they will be made to clean their act up.

It is also disappointing that a party that traditionally supports human rights is back tracking on a measure that will help stamp out the illegal practices that are known to be going on. It will help put some credibility back into an industry whose reputation is going to be tarnished by this if the minister drops the surveillance camera programme.

New Zealand cannot afford to let its reputation as the “Wild West” of the high seas continue. It erodes the confidence that international and domestic customers can have that our fish are caught properly and in compliance with best environment, labour and regulatory practices.

We are a first world country, not a third world country. We have obligations under international and domestic law that need to be upheld and which other nations can subject New Zealand to scrutiny on. Each time the United Nations send a special rapporteur over or the periodic report show casing progress and answering criticisms is delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, this is something that we can be potentially challenged on.

New Zealand needs to understand that people are starting to become aware of issues with supply chains and their role at the end of those chains as consumers. This is why for example there were concerns a few years ago about live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia, a country not known for having a strong animal rights record. The concerns that the sheep would die en route and that the carcasses would be a health hazard by the time they reached a Saudi port were credible.

The same awareness is becoming true of fisheries both inside and outside of New Zealand. It is exacerbated by the fact that our fisheries have boats operating in them crewed by non-New Zealanders. They have reported on numerous occasions mistreatment, non-compliance with records and other problems. The ships captains and executive officers have been known to be hostile towards third party observers being on board.

 

Keeping super power influence in check in South Pacific


Yesterday on the Q+A programme Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters raised the issue that Chinese influence in the South Pacific is going to be a significant concern of this Government’s foreign policy. The remarks, which come at the start of a week long tour of the South Pacific where Mr Peters and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. will meet Pacific leaders, come against a backdrop of growing Chinese influence in a year where Chinese President Xi Jinping appears intent on becoming a 21st Century emperor.

China has been expanding its interest in the South Pacific for years. It has turned a blind eye to the Frank Bainimarama regime of Fiji committing human rights abuses against Fijians. In return for such activities being ignored, South Pacific nations have permitted Chinese mining and forestry companies to set up businesses on their lands. One might ask what the problem with this is?

Simple. These island nations will not see the economic benefits. They might be employed to work on building the roads, but there is unlikely to be any sharing of the royalties taken from the business. It also remains to be seen how much tax if any that the Chinese companies will be made to pay to their Governments so they can provide basic services for their people.

It is not to say that Western companies are any better. The Ok Tedi mine where tonnes of pure copper sulphate solution was allowed to pour straight into the local river, completely destroying the ecosystem is one example of a mine project gone bad in Papua New Guinea. The company responsible was B.H.P. Billiton. Whilst litigation of the case happened and resulted in a $29 million pay out in the 1990’s the environmental, economic and social costs of the damage will take an estimated 300 years to fix.

These countries have very weak legal systems, and endemic corruption at all levels. Because of this, several South Pacific Island nations are potentially at risk of becoming failed states with governance that simply does not work properly any more. The corruption means that there is a risk that organized crime or militants linked to terrorist groups might use these nations as a back door into Australia and New Zealand.

All nations are quite vulnerable to climate change and the outlying parts of Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue are at risk of becoming uninhabitable in the next 50 years. Over fishing and deforestation are also likely to impact on their economies.

This is where New Zealand and Australia become very important players. As the regional powers with the means to influence the United States and China, both nations have an obligation to look after their smaller Pacific Island neighbours and act as role models in terms of how their governance should be in an ideal world. Right now neither nation is doing a particularly good job of this – following the Papua New Guinea earthquake last week, Australia has so far only just begun to move relief supplies in; New Zealand to the best of my knowledge has not yet done anything at all.

Mr Peters will also be well aware of the growing influence of the United States on Australia. Mr Trump, who is unlikely to be received by South Pacific island leaders strongly denies climate change, which many cite as a key problem for them. Instead, Mr Trump seems more in the sphere of influence that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promotes. Mr Turnbull’s Government has shown open skepticism of climate change, and both view China as a common problem. In “making America great again” by promoting policies that put America first Mr Trump seems to be putting America on a collision course with China.

Thus far the South Pacific island nations have not featured strongly on Mr Trump’s agenda. How long that is the case remains to be seen. Should Mr Trump become fixated on these little nations, the other question is context.

Minister right to deny secrecy to fishing companies


It has come to my attention that the Minister for Primary Industries, Stuart Nash, has rejected calls for secrecy on videos recorded on trawlers at sea that show dead marine birds and dolphins.

Aside from raising suspicions about whether the industry is trying to hide poor or illegal practices, the application for secrecy also means it would be more difficult to track any catches of protected species.

New Zealand prides itself on being responsible, but incidents such as those that happened with the Oyang trawlers where one of numerous offences was the improper catching and misreporting of fish taken, show another less savoury side. This has the potential to affect our reputation overseas, given that increasingly people are looking at the chain of supply to ensure that the products they consume came about as the result of legal and ethical practices.

In a letter to Mr Nash, the representatives of the fishing industry claimed that the videos would be used by individuals and organisations that have an anti-fishing agenda. The industry representatives also claimed that by making the videos subject to the Official Information Act, the Minister was in effect showing poor judgement on what are considered to be commercially sensitive issues.

Mr Nash rejected the letter, saying that he sees no grounds for changing the Fisheries Act in terms of those acting under it meeting their obligations to the Official Information Act.

When a company fishes commercially in New Zealand waters and operates ships out of a New Zealand port they are completely subject to New Zealand law. That means the company must ensure that New Zealand occupational safety and health provisions must be complied with, that when a ship goes to sea it is in a seaworthy condition and the crew are fit to be working on board. When the ship returns to its New Zealand port it does not drop ballast water that should have been discharged away from the coast. Most of all though unlike Oyang 75, which wound up being forfeited as a result of grossly negligent practices, physical and sexual abuse of crew and other crimes, it is expected that the crews on board are treated with dignity and paid their due wages.

If a company operating a fishing trawler or any other ship cannot or will not do that in accordance with New Zealand law, it has no place operating in our waters.

 

Protecting the whitebait fishery in New Zealand


Whitebait are a New Zealand delicacy. Every year hundreds of people try their hand at catching the tasty translucent morsels that enter our coastal waterways. On the market, a kilogram of whitebait may fetch N.Z.$90.

Whitebait patties are how most whitebait that are caught end up. Their popularity is enduring by virtue of the relative ease and speed of making them. They were the entree at the A.P.E.C. 1999 State Banquet held for the then United States President Bill Clinton and the Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

But whitebait are in danger of extinction. Their immense popularity, damage to their habitat and (this is debatable)over fishing of the delicacy, which have five subspecies in New Zealand – climbing galaxias, common galaxias, banded kokopu, shortjaw kokopu and giant kokopu┬áhave brought about severe challenges for a popular recreational past time. This has brought with it, talk of possibly closing the fishery for a period of one or two years during which there is a complete ban on whitebaiting, with the idea being that whitebait would be able to regain some of their population.

Whitebait habitat damage, and in particular their spawning grounds is the most serious threat they face. A spawning ground might be only a couple standard glass houses in area, but in that area tens of thousands of whitebait will be depositing their eggs, and the destruction of that one spawning ground might be the difference between whether or not that particular river/stream/creek/estuary/lagoon has a meaningful whitebait population the following year.

I and my father whitebait each year. We have no problems with compliance and follow local regulations specific to the Canterbury area and fisheries. We do it because we enjoy eating whitebait and are not there to make a profit from doing so, which some are – our purpose has always been to put food on the table, which is what I believe all hunting and fishing should be about. We do not leave any litter or other debris behind that might enter their habitat and cause adverse effects.

Pollutants entering the habitat – cigarette butts, plastics, and so forth – are another threat that needs to be considered. This is a general common pollution issue that should be dealt with separately by way of enforcement action by local council rangers. Fines and – most appropriately – making the offender participate in a rubbish clean up would be a good way of getting the message across.

No quotas exist for whitebaiters. It is debatable whether there needs to be quotas. One will immediately ask, if quotas exist, how are they going to be enforced and the only answer from hard experience is by ground enforcement on the spot. There would need to be many rangers enforcing the quotas and there is a possibility that they would – like anyone involved in law enforcement – possibly have to deal with hostile people. The quota size itself would also be up for debate. Sometimes several kilogrammes of whitebait might be caught each day, and then there might be none or little for several days or even weeks – nearly all we caught this year was taken in the final week of the season.

Whitebaiters are permitted to whitebait from dawn to dusk. They are allowed nets and gobi’s (nylon fencing on poles)that extend from the net to the shore. The combined net/gobi arrangement cannot take up more than 1/3 of a channel width and must be manned at all times. A whitebait net cannot be less than 20 metres from another whitebait net.┬áThe season start time varies from one region to the next – the Canterbury one started in mid-August and ended at sunset 30 November.

I don’t want any children I might eventually have or anyone else who has children to be denied the opportunity to show them an easy and fun – albeit sometimes patience testing – mode of fishing. So, let us enjoy our whitebait, but apply a bit of common sense and protect the habitats, don’t take more than you want to use and respect the other whitebaiters who have come to try their luck.

Common sense really.

The need for a Kermadec ocean sanctuary


I was disappointed to see in the Sunday Star Times today that New Zealand First have shown resistance to the idea of an ocean sanctuary. The comments in the Sunday Star Times, which allegedly caught the Green Party unawares, point to a potential hurdle in the future that the new Government will not be able to bypass.

New M.P. and former Labour M.P. Shane Jones, who is a potential cabinet member of the new Labour led minority Government, disclosed before the election that Sealord and Talleys were bankrolling his election campaign in Whangarei. Mr Jones who has extensive links to Iwi and backs customary fishing rights under the Treaty of Waitangi and fellow New Zealand First Members of Parliament have been described as close to the fishing industry.

Given the lack of regard shown for the marine environment around the world, there is a strong case for an ocean sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when the outgoing National Government in 2015 announced that New Zealand would commit to an ocean sanctuary covering the Kermadec Islands. It would not permit mining, oil extraction or fishing. The sanctuary would cover the oceans around islands such as Raoul and Curtiss Island.

This is also why I support the need for a blue water navy. Defence policy aside, New Zealand has a vast economic exclusion zone that is prone to being raided by illegals who have no legitimate business in New Zealand waters. The proposed ocean sanctuary covering the Kermadec Islands would not be exempt from the potential ravages of these raiders. A blue water navy with appropriate surveillance, backed by a strong judicial system would show raiders that if they conduct their illegal business in N.Z. waters, there will be a price to pay.

Despite the Green Party saying that they are confident that an appropriate outcome can be achieved, I have concerns about how any agreement will be passed into law, and whether it will be effective in protecting the marine ecosystem.