Sustainable fishing drives exports – Seafood New Zealand

“Sustainability is at the core of everything for our seafood industry. Without sustainability in fisheries, we don’t have a business. It’s never in our interest to fish a stock to a point where it’s no longer sustainable as it’s our future.”

Seafood New Zealand Chief Executive, Dr Jeremy Helson

Through challenging Covid times, New Zealand’s seafood industry has continued to generate valuable export dollars for the country along with work for many thousands of people.

As Seafood New Zealand Chief Executive Dr Jeremy Helson observes, the latest MPI forecast is for the industry to hit $1.9 billion in export earnings for the year ending June 2022.

“We’re clawing our way back to pre-Covid levels of earnings as the market starts to rebound from Covid pressures – it’s a good result,” he says.

“Added to that, economic analysis by BERL estimates that the seafood industry generates $5.2 billion in economic output for New Zealand. That includes not just fishing but also processing and associated activity like ship repairs and dry docking. In other words, this is a $5.2 billion industry supporting kiwi workers and employment in coastal communities and ports.”

He suggests New Zealand’s continued economic resilience over the past two years owes much to the strength of the country’s primary sector, including the seafood industry.

“Fishing, farming and forestry is what New Zealand has always done well. I think maybe some people thought they had gone out of fashion as we got into things like tourism and the export education sector.

“Those have fallen away very quickly and significantly in the last two years; it’s the primary sector that has stepped into the gap. In fact, over 80 per cent of New Zealand’s merchandise trade comes from primary industries.”

Seafood New Zealand works very closely with all the sector’s industry groups, including Aquaculture NZ, Deepwater Group Ltd and Fisheries Inshore NZ Ltd. As an umbrella organisation, Seafood New Zealand represents the industry on many sector-wide issues, such as labour supply.

“We’re struggling to attract New Zealanders into the seafood industry at the moment because the whole labour market is so tight. Our industry may not be top of mind when people think about career opportunities and that’s unfortunate because it can be a very lucrative pathway, particularly for sea going crew.

“There are great opportunities to progress and build careers in the seafood industry and we’re trying to increase awareness of that among young people. Fishing is not the only career option as there is also associated research and technology going on. We’re working with government to get more kiwis involved across the board.”

Seafood New Zealand is proud of the industry’s sustainability performance. According to Fisheries New Zealand’s latest annual assessment of fish stocks, 94% of the catch is coming from stocks with no sustainability risks. The remainder have plans in place to rebuild stocks through the QuotaManagement System (QMS). Fish stocks are assessed using scientific research, validated catch and fishing effort reports from commercial fisheries, and data from their on-board observer programme. Seafood New Zealand is confident the QMS is working well.

“Sustainability is at the core of everything for our seafood industry. Without sustainability in fisheries, we don’t have a business. It’s never in our interest to fish a stock to a point where it’s no longer sustainable as it’s our future.”

He notes that innovation continues to drive sustainability goals in the industry, delivering ever more selective and targeted fishing practices as well as reduced environmental impacts.

“The way the nets are cut and configured means trawlers can much more selectively target the species they want to catch and let juvenile fish escape. Today’s nets are also much lighter so there is much less bottom contact.” The national roll-out of cameras on commercial inshore fishing vessels, announced by the government in May, has sparked a lot of industry debate. Dr Helson says the industry position on cameras has tended to be misconstrued over the years.

“We have always been cautiously supportive on the use of cameras. Our concerns have been focussed on the cost of cameras and who bears the cost as well as privacy and commercial sensitivity – who will receive the information from these cameras and who will see it? From our perspective, these issues are still live and we’re working with the government to follow it through.”
Rapidly rising fuel costs have been another issue of concern for the industry over the past six to 12 months.

“With fuel costs having increased by some 150 per cent in the past year, it is a significant cost impact for many and is difficult to manage. People are having to be very selective about when they go out to fish and what they catch. It is a challenging time for many in our industry.”

© Waterford Press Ltd 2022 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

First printed in the August edition of Business South 2022.

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