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Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill

First Reading

Thursday 15 March 2007 Hansard source (external site)

Debate resumed from 13 March.

TureiMETIRIA TUREI (Green) Link to this

The Green Party welcomes this Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill. This amendment is intended to put sustainability at the forefront of fisheries legislation. Ever since the introduction of meaningful regulation of fishing in the 1980s, the fishing industry has been characterised by extreme litigiousness at every turn, with fishers seeking to increase catches without adequate regard for the long-term sustainability of the resource.

It is well known that over the years there has been considerable under-reporting of catches, trucking—which is the reporting of catch as having been taken from one area when it has actually been taken from another, such as has happened with hoki—and other deviations from the law. That is not surprising when only a portion of the total fishing fleet typically has scientific observers on board to bear witness to what fishers are doing. This is not to say that are all fishers are crooked; it is just that there are some bad apples, if you like, in the bunch.

There are examples—in fact, many examples—of fishers leading the way in trying to lessen the adverse effects of their activities on non-target species, such as Dave Kellian’s invention of an underwater bait-setting device. In some cases, such as those cited in Southern Seabird Solutions, there are collective efforts to clean up the industry and its impact on the environment.

In some specific fisheries, fishers have taken quite a strong stand on managing the fishery to ensure that it is sustainable, but often that has not occurred until well after the fishery has already been overfished. In fact, it turns out that fisheries are most profitable when they are fished to only 75 percent of the level of biomass that will support the maximum sustainable yield, which is under the levels that fish stocks need to maintain themselves as sustainable. That is the highest level of profitability, so it is not good for fisheries as a whole.

Time and time again we have seen fishers defeat the Ministry of Fisheries in court, when the ministry has attempted to uphold sustainability measures. Similarly, Ministers of Fisheries have repeatedly retracted their decisions that promote sustainability in favour of economics, and at times Ministers have bent to sheer economic opportunism, irrespective of the environmental impact. One example, of course, is the setting of a much higher catch limit on squid in the last fishing season, despite that resulting in an increased numbers of deaths of endangered New Zealand sea lions in the SQU6T quota area.

This bill should help to address those problems. For the first time it will put environmental sustainability ahead of economics in the Fisheries Act 1996, and this is long overdue. There can be no economic sustainability without environmental sustainability. Environmental sustainability is a precondition to a secure economic future for our country. It is not the other way around, as many of those who have been responsible for trashing the planet in various ways, whether through overfishing or soil degradation, would have us believe. This bill takes the position that if the information about a fish stock or about the effect of exploiting it on other species—such as with the sea lion issue I raised earlier—or on the marine ecosystem is uncertain, inadequate, or unreliable, then decisions can be made to ensure sustainability. I would have thought that that was an absolute no-brainer.

If one takes a look at stock assessments over recent years, remembering that the state of the stock is just one aspect of marine sustainability, one sees numerous cases where information is clearly inadequate, uncertain, or unreliable. For example, there are estimates of pāua biomass in only half of the areas where stocks exist, so how can sensible limits be placed on catch in the areas where there are no estimates of that biomass? That can be done only by erring on the side of caution and by putting sustainability ahead of economics. For spiny dogfish there is so little information available that even the maximum constant yield cannot be estimated. Even for those fisheries where there is much more known, such as the tarakihi fishery, the data on which the maximum constant yield is based is, in some cases, over 20 years old.

The lack of information about fish stocks and their environments is all the more significant in current times. It is still unknown just how climate change will affect the marine environments. Will the increasing sea temperatures affect larval survival? Will inshore spawning beds be destroyed by the constant and increased sediment deposition that comes as a result of increased storm intensity over land, which increases soil erosion? Will currents and nutrient movement be affected by climate change? Will stocks and associated species be more susceptible to disease as a result of changes in temperature and other climate change impacts? How will the acidification of the oceans impact on the carbon shell - dependent species at the bottom of the food chain, and how will that, therefore, affect the fish stocks that rely on those small creatures as their source of food?

How will any of the changes that result from climate change affect the overall sustainability of marine ecosystems and fishing activity? We simply cannot afford to ignore these concerns. With climate change and the continued incessant overfishing in domestic and territorial waters, it is a fact that the state of the marine ecosystem is increasingly uncertain. The Green Party believes that the provisions of this bill are a small step, but a crucial one, to making sure that those potential effects are properly considered for the benefit of the sustainability of our marine environment for the future. Thank you.

DonnellyHon BRIAN DONNELLY (NZ First) Link to this

I thank the Government for allowing me this slot, because people will recognise that when this legislation was being debated on Tuesday night the New Zealand First speaker was Pita Paraone. The debate would have wound up, because there was only 1 minute to go, but he took that slot. Unfortunately he is on leave—within the 25 percent, I might add. So the Government has given us this spot, because we believe that the Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill is very, very much in line with what New Zealand First is all about. It is certainly in line with our policy on where we believe our nation should be going.

I have to admit to the House that I would describe myself as a very enthusiastic recreational fisherman, but I would not necessarily describe myself as a particularly successful one. I will give members one story. I fish out of Doubtless Bay up in the far north, and down in Ngunguru, out of Whangarei, and next to Tūtūkākā, but not all the way out to the Poor Knights Islands because that area is a reserve. One day along a beach up in the far north, my mate and I were collecting mussels off a mussel rock there and several groups of people further up the beach were collecting tuatuas. A four-wheel drive stopped and the driver was looking and looking. I have to say that for a moment when we came out of the sea we thought that maybe he was a fisheries officer, but we were well within our limit so we did not have anything to worry about. He was, in fact, an American, and he asked us what we were doing. We said we were getting the mussels off the rocks to eat. He asked if anybody was allowed to do that and we said, yes, that was available to all New Zealanders as long as they stayed within their limits. He asked what all the other people were doing along the beach. We said they were picking up tuatuas. He just could not get over the fact that New Zealanders were able to go out on to their coastline and collect a feed for themselves and their families with no interruptions, and that this was part of the New Zealand lifestyle.

That is what this bill is very, very much about. If I think in terms of Doubtless Bay—and I go back to the 1970s there—and look now at my successes in January, for example, at trying to get snapper, it would appear to me that the fish stock has dwindled. It may well be that the phenomenon we find up there is that for the couple of weeks after New Year the fishing is not particularly good, and then it gets good in the second half of the month. I remember that back in the 70s we were fishing in the latter part of January. In the bay at Ngunguru people have been saying that kahawai stocks are dwindling. Well, at times we look out from our window and see schools and boil-ups of kahawai that go halfway across the bay, so we really have to ask ourselves whether our stocks are dwindling—are they the same or are they getting fewer?

That is what this bill is all about. New Zealand First believes that it is the birthright of all New Zealanders to be able to throw out a line and catch themselves a fish, to have access to kai moana, and to have that right for themselves and for their families. It is not the right to be able to rape and pillage, but to be able to catch fresh fish and enjoy them around the barbecue, out in the backyard, or wherever it might be, over certain periods of time. Members must admit that there is nothing better than a fresh snapper, for example, or a feed of fresh kūtai. Therefore we, as a nation, have a responsibility to ensure that both our freshwater and our sea stocks of fish and other kai moana are maintained.

We have put in place a strong system. Although I say it is a strong system, I tell members it is not a totally foolproof system. One of the problems with the Fisheries Act 1996 as it currently stands is that when the various sustainability measures are being decided upon, such as the total allowable catches and fishing method restrictions, the Act does not allow for a precautionary approach to be fully taken. So where there is an absence of information—and let us face it: there is a lot of absence of information around our ecosystems—rather than requiring the decision makers to take the fully precautionary approach so that they minimise risks, the Act actually does the other thing. In fact, it tells them to take risks.

The problem with that is that in the absence, dearth, or weakness of information available, the wrong decision can be made. For example, when there was not full access to information about orange roughy, inadequate decisions were made about total allowable catches, and that was to the detriment of the fish stock. This bill changes the law so that if the full information is not available, then the decision makers will be able to act in a fully precautionary manner. New Zealand First believes that this is the way it should have been from 1996, and we are 100 percent behind this bill.

We are not necessarily behind the shared fisheries proposals, and we are asking some questions about the problem there.

RobertsonThe ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson) Link to this

I say to members that it is a longstanding convention that members should not conduct conversations in the House unless it is necessary to do so, and then so as not to disturb proceedings because it is distracting for the member who is trying to address the House. Thank you.

DonnellyHon BRIAN DONNELLY Link to this

As I say, we in New Zealand First will defend to the end the right of recreational fishers to be able to have sustainable stocks, and to be able readily to obtain fish—not necessarily in the manner in which it used to be done but certainly in an easy fashion. However, we are not absolutely convinced about the shared fisheries proposals, and we ask what the problem is. We fish in the snapper 1 area, and that has the smallest restrictions upon recreational fishers. I tell members here and now that I have not heard even one of the people who live up in Doubtless Bay complain that the restrictions are too great. The number of fish that is allowable—nine snapper per fisher, for example—is certainly adequate for the people who fish recreationally to be able to feed themselves and their families. So we ask what the problem is that the legislation may be trying to fix.

This issue is a different issue altogether. This issue is something to do with setting the total allowable catch across customary fishers, Māori fishers, recreational fishers, and commercial fishers—the total whole. We believe that decisions being made around that, if they are got wrong, will negatively affect all sectors—the recreational sector, the commercial sector, the Māori sector, the customary sector—the whole lot. Therefore, we believe that it makes eminently good sense to have legislation that requires the decision makers, in the absence of the full degree of information about the impact upon ecosystems, fish stocks, and stocks of seafood, to employ the precautionary approach, to its fullest measures.

That, we believe, will enable my grandchildren, for example, to come out in the boat with me and have that thrill of catching a fish on a rod and line. They will be able to take the fish back to grandma and say: “Look what I caught, grandma!”. Grandad can fillet it for them and then they can enjoy the eating of it. That is the birthright of every New Zealander—and every new New Zealander. As far as we in New Zealand First are concerned, we will do everything possible to protect that birthright. Therefore, we will support this bill through all its stages.

SharplesDr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) Link to this

Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker, tēnātātou. In principle, the Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill sounds all very laudable. It is always sensible lawmaking to start off with the intention to clarify the law and to provide clearer direction. The bill is motivated by a concern that the existing wording of the Act fails to make it sufficiently clear that decision makers should not delay or avoid taking measures to ensure sustainability, even when the best information available is incomplete or deficient. The key buzzwords relate, as in the original 1996 Act, to providing for the utilisation of fisheries resources while ensuring sustainability. In focusing on sustainability, emphasis is given towards maintaining the potential of fisheries resources to meet the needs of our future generations, and towards avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of fishing on the aquatic environment.

In and of itself, making sustainability a priority in the way in which we manage ocean resources is commendable. We endorse the view of Greenpeace that making sustainability the priority and urging precaution as a principle is a move along the right track if we are to prevent the collapse of the ever-declining population of all major commercial fish species. But—and it is a big but—we in the Māori Party must always be aware of and watch out for fish-hooks and the potential for decay and destruction to occur. So we ask why the Government would need to intervene to assist the process of making fisheries management decisions. Would it have anything to do with the shared fisheries plans, on which, coincidentally, submissions closed the day before this bill had its first reading in the House? Why would a new item appear on the legislative agenda to assist decision makers to take measures even when the best available information is incomplete or otherwise deficient?

The bill provides even more explicit direction that even if information is “absent or is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate”, decision makers should not postpone or fail to take measures. I do not know what members think, but it sounds a bit Mickey Mouse to me. When else in this House are we asked to endorse a policy process in which we vote for decisions to be made even when information is absent, uncertain, unreliable, or inadequate?

The approval for policy gaps and gaffes to be allowed becomes even more suspect when we consider the current context in which the Government is looking to trim back commercial fishing quotas in order to make available more fish for recreational fishers. This proposal has been met with widespread alarm by Māori fishers. Iwi have identified that the shared fisheries plan will conclude with their losing substantial value from their fishing assets. They are united in believing that the proposals undermine the integrity of the 1992 fisheries settlement. Te Ātiawa Trust released a statement on 11 February 2007, which stated: “Not one iwi was in favour of this proposal, with some saying that legal action might be necessary.”

In the heat of such opposition, is it not interesting that new legislation is suddenly introduced, thus clearing the way for decisions to be made? It is not as though the Ministry of Fisheries has a particularly good record in terms of its capacity to relate to and consult with Māori. We have looked at the transcript of an interview on TV3 with the Minister of Fisheries on 9 February, in which the advice of Māori is described as “hysterical and ridiculous”. In fact, the Minister went even further, by responding to the comments of the Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee chief executive, Peter Douglas, with the following retort: “Get a life. I mean that’s ridiculous. These are private property rights. … I hear everyone screaming this at me. Do you think I don’t understand that?”.

It is evident that the Minister and the ministry are under pressure, but does such a crisis situation require such drastic action as is proposed in the current bill? The Māori Party, like the Māori caucus of the Labour Party, met with a group of eminent iwi leaders last week, who were fuelled by the concerns they had about the current fishing policy. There were iwi leaders from Ngāpuhi, NgāiTahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, NgātiPorou, Tainui, Te Arawa waka, Ngāti Awa, and many others. Also attending were representatives of other Māori fishing interests, including Aotearoa Fisheries Ltd and Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee. It is always a privilege to be in the company of such a prestigious group of leaders. These people are our iwi leaders. They spoke to us of their fear that the Government would increase recreational quotas by reducing commercial quotas. So we come to this bill with that advice ringing in our ears.

We come also to the Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill recognising the united concerns of those representatives, who dismiss the criticism of Māori interests as being hysterical and not helpful. A release issued the next day had this to say: “We’re not being hysterical over this issue, we’re being historical. The Maori fisheries agreement with the Crown settled historical grievances and [yet] the proposals put forward by the Ministry clearly undermine that agreement.” When I raised the matter on Tuesday in the appropriations debate, the Minister of Fisheries was in complete denial.

We have to acknowledge the expertise and institutional experience of Māori fishers and value the advice they have to offer regarding fisheries management decisions. Their cautionary comments alert us to any fish-hooks legislated for by amendments such as those proposed today. They alert us to any changes that serve to threaten or endanger Māori fishing rights. We note, for instance, that in the new Shared Fisheries document the business and activity of Māori fishing has seen the interpretation of customary fishing reduced to non-commercial rights, to the exclusion of commercial customary rights. This demonstrates an absolute ignorance of the fact that Māori, since time immemorial, have been involved in both commercial and non-commercial activities. This new definition of customary fishing is totally in breach of the official deed of settlement to Māori.

We will be opposing this bill on three counts. Firstly, we cannot support the proposal that decisions should be made even though information is absent, uncertain, unreliable, or inadequate. Secondly, according to the Māori tribal leaders themselves the Ministry of Fisheries has demonstrated its inability to relate to, and have meaningful consultation with, Māori—despite the Minister’s claims about consultation. On that basis alone, it would be difficult for us to support this bill. Thirdly, the recent activity associated with the shared fisheries proposals has alerted us to the possibility of the fish-hooks that could serve to entrap and ensnare those involved in Māori fishing rights. It is as a consequence of these issues that we will today register our opposition to the Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill. Thank you.

ChoudharyDr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) Link to this

Aleikum salaam. I rise to take a brief call in support of the Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill. This movement of sustainability, which is the catchcry of the world nowadays, started 20 or 30 years ago. It all started in New Zealand with, if you like, the introduction of the Resource Management Act. The whole idea is to make sure that we manage and utilise the resources that we have inherited from our forefathers, and make sure there is enough left for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. Sustainability is pretty much akin to all the resource management legislation that we have in place. We are now talking about the aspiration to carbon neutrality and making sure that the land, the air, the sea, and the forests—all the resources that we have—are managed and utilised in a way that maintains them for future generations.

Normally we have been talking about GDP, which is basically talking about things in dollar terms. We talk about trying to have economic gains from various national resources, and as the world moves towards some kind of genuine progress indicator we have to make sure that environmental and social issues are taken into account as we move forward.

This bill about fisheries is in the same vein as the cautionary approach we take to the resources of land and air to protect them. This bill is all about protecting fisheries for the longer-term use by our future generations, and this precautionary approach is to make sure there is enough fish for future generations to enjoy. In the longer term, sustainability and utilisation as I see it, and I have done a lot of research into some of these sustainability issues, are really compatible. On the one hand we say that farmers have to make money to survive, which I totally agree with, but on the other hand we say that long-term sustainability and long-term enjoyment of these natural resources are important and we must look after them. In terms of the fish stock in the sea, we have to make sure that we fish in such a way that enough is left for the long term.

I had the opportunity last week to go on a trip with the seafood industry, and it was fascinating to see some of the aquaculture areas that are being developed up in the Hauraki Gulf. It was nice to see a large area now brought under aquaculture, to grow fish for export purposes.

I support the bill, which is clearly designed to remove any ambiguity in the current Act and to make sure that future decisions allow for sustainability in the longer term. Thank you very much.

Link to this

A party vote was called for on the question,

That the Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill be now read a first time

Ayes 115

Noes 4

Bill read a first time.

BarkerHon RICK BARKER (Minister of Internal Affairs) Link to this

I move, That the Fisheries Act 1996 Amendment Bill be referred to the Primary Production Committee referred to Primary Production Committee

Motion agreed to.


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