In a crackdown over unsafe and, at times, inhumane labour practices, all foreign fishing boats must now be reflagged with the New Zealand flag.
The substantial law-change came into effect on Sunday, after a four-year transition period, and means all vessels operating in New Zealand waters must follow New Zealand law.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said the change would ensure fair standards for all fishing crews in New Zealand.
This is a very very good thing. The conditions on some of the foreign flagged vessels were akin to slavery. The conditions were what you’d expect in North Korea, not vessels operating in NZ, catching NZ quota.
“Reflagging gives us full jurisdiction over areas like employment, health and safety conditions on vessels fishing in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
“The reflagging is carried out by Maritime New Zealand and requires operators to ensure fishing vessels fully comply with our maritime rules and the Health and Safety at Work Act. It also requires the crew to have appropriate New Zealand-equivalent qualifications,” Guy said.
Nine vessels so far had been reflagged, three were in the process of reflagging and could not fish in New Zealand waters until they had.
About nine had decided not to fish in New Zealand waters, Guy said.
So 12 have or will reflag and nine will fish elsewhere.
The industry as a whole catches fish worth more than $650 million a year, the majority of it filling Maori iwi fishing quotas. The export industry is worth more than $1.5 billion a year.
It is somewhat ironic that rather than use the quotas to create jobs for local Maori fishers, instead it was used to hire foreign vessels to do the fishing. Now that is their right to use the cheapest source of labour, so they get the best return on capital. But a useful reminder about how assumptions are not always correct about perceived benefits.