Foreign Crewed Fishing Vessels

I read over the weekend a paper by the NZ Asia Institute on foreign crewed fishing vessels in NZ waters. It makes a convincing case that the status quo is not working, and some terrible abuses are happening. The solutions are harder though.

Many may think that these foreign vessels are legally able to pay slave labour rates, and undercut NZ vessels. In fact the law requires them to be paid the NZ minimum wage, and there is a code of practice setting out minimum requirements with wages, living conditions etc. All staff on board an FCV must hold a NZ work visa which means the NZ Minimum Wage Act and Wages Protection Act applies. The COP requires crew to be paid for at least 42 hours a week at $2/hr above the minimum wage. Sounds fine in theory.

So what is the problem? Well to be blunt, some of the companies that supply the FCVs simply lie, cheat and cover up. And the treatment of the crew can range from cruel and inhumane to worse.

And this is happening in NZ waters. In terms of wages, as I said, the law does require them to be paid NZ minimums, but again we learn:

So the status quo is pretty horrible. But what is the solution? Is it more audits? Do you require say a NZer on board each FCV who checks for compliance? Or do you ban FCVs? The reason we have them in the first place is because the NZ industry did not have the operational capacity or capital to operate deep-water-factory-freezer vessels, which would mean an inability to harvest the total allowable catch. The authors argue that now in 2011, one can, so FCVs should be phased out.

I don’t support phasing them out, except as a last resort. The authors note they focused on the “dark” side of the industry and did not cover the many quality operators. One question I have is what proportion of the total, are the “bad” FCVs.

I’d also be keen to look at other options, such as better pro-active audits, and a blacklist of certain companies if their audits fail. One needs to make sure there are very strong incentives for those companies to obey the law, and treat their staff well. If they are unable to do that, they should not be allowed to be contracted to NZ quota holders.


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