Marine – Stop public investment in bottom trawlers

Recently, Fisheries New Zealand presented a draft Fisheries Industry Transformation Plan, claiming this would revolutionise commercial fishing in New Zealand. Unfortunately, the plan is not transformational, it’s the opposite, and risks cementing the status quo for the next 30 years. This flies in the face of increasing public opposition to ongoing trawling and damage to the seabed. While the plan outlines a range of changes, there are no proposals to transition away from destructive bulk harvesting methods like bottom trawling, scallop dredging and Danish seining in our coastal waters.

Achieving meaningful transformation starts by addressing real issues, not by glossing over the environmental impacts of industrial fishing. What’s more, the plan authors have the gall to put their hand out for tens of millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to build new, larger fishing vessels.

The current proposal is just another form of subsidy-grabbing, with a cloak of greenwashing to help it slide past us with minimal fanfare. This leads us to ask the question – after 36 years fishing under the Quota Management System, why has the industry failed to generate enough income or equity to revitalise its own fleet?

Internationally, the New Zealand government has been scathing of fishing subsidies. Phil Goff, the Minister of Trade (at the time of this quote), said it eloquently, “To stop overfishing we need countries to stop paying subsidies that encourage more people to fish even when it is not economic.”

The economic outcome of this Industry Transformation Plan is stark – large (publicly funded) industrial fishing boats exporting their catch to generate profits for their shareholders. Say goodbye to the quintessential family-run business or buying fish from your local store.

Transformation starts with transitioning away from destructive fishing methods and through means such as a buy-back of quota allocated to bulk-harvest species, the quota can then be leased to small-scale fishers.

Small-scale fishing enables people to make a living locally. Lee Fish is a prime example of success, supporting the local community for the past 60 years. They are one of the few seafood companies that has rejected bulk harvesting in favour of providing fresh, sustainably caught seafood to New Zealanders via supermarkets.

The fish they catch and sell around the North Island are caught by long-lining, enabling fishers to select the best fish for market while having a lower environmental impact. Plus, they are contributing to the regional economy – all while supporting the fishers who can make a living in their backyard. Just imagine companies like Lee returning to coastal towns around the country.

The Quota Management System has allowed the commercial industry to trash the marine environment. Public subsidies to upgrade their fleet is not a solution. Instead, we need a serious commitment to change behaviours to use more selective fishing techniques and treat the ocean as a gift, which we want to pass down to future next generations.