What to make of the new government and its implications for the seafood industry?

What to make of the new government and its implications for the seafood industry?

There is at least one initial plus – the return to a standalone Fisheries Ministry, to be headed by Hawke’s Bay MP Stuart Nash.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was surprisingly direct in announcing the dismembering of the Ministry for Primary Industries - with both fishing and forestry to be carved off - saying there were a “range of issues and dysfunction within the fishing industry”.

She was not specific but there is never a shortage of issues and there is certainly dysfunction around the introduction of digital monitoring and cameras across the entire fleet of some 1200 vessels.

The timetable cannot possibly be met, the settings and policies are not in place and now is the time to pause, regroup and get it right.

There has been some early attention to the Kermadecs ocean sanctuary, which Ardern has said is still on the table, while acknowledging iwi consultation is the key.

That is reassuring, as long as it recognises Maori have a perpetual right.

Greens leader James Shaw is correct in saying National created the problem by rushing out and announcing the proposed sanctuary to an international audience first, without consulting at home.

“They then had to work backwards to a resolution,” Shaw said. “And we’re committed to finding a resolution too, but it’s got to be alongside Maori.”

Contrast that principled approach with that of former Environment Minister Nick Smith, who still doesn’t appear to get it.

He sees the stalled bill to create the sanctuary as a political weapon to be used to divide the Greens and Labour.

The fact remains the 620,000 square kilometre Kermadecs zone is not at risk.

The Kermadecs already have reserve status in that they have been a Benthic Protected Area (BPA) since 2007 at the behest of the fishing industry.

That means no trawling, no disturbing of the bottom.

Mining and gas and oil extraction are also ruled out.

And the territorial seas out to 20km around the Kermadec Islands are fully protected reserves that allow no fishing whatsoever.

There is understandable reluctance on the part of iwi and the wider commercial fishing industry to lock up such a vast area forever.

A smarter play would be look to the wider Pacific and encourage the island states to better protect their waters and discourage depradation by large foreign fleets, particularly the heavily subsidised Chinese.

Pelagic species like tuna and swordfish know no boundaries and it is not much use having them fully protected 200 miles out from Raoul Island if they are being heavily overfished on their prior migratory path.

The confidence and supply agreement between Labour and the Greens has as point 17 of its policy programme: Honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the country’s founding document.

The appointment of Kelvin Davis in the new portfolio of Crown/Maori Relations gives heft to that.

As everyone knows, Article Two of the Treaty guarantees Maori “full exclusive and undisturbed possession” of their fisheries, reaffirmed in the 1992 Maori Fisheries Settlement.

That recognition is consistent with point 8 of the Labour/Greens policy document: Use best endeavours and work alongside Maori to establish the Kermadec/Rangitahua Ocean Sanctuary….

The Labour/NZ First coalition agreement also refers to the Kermadecs, pledging to “work with Maori and other quota holders to resolve outstanding issues in the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary Bill”.

That agreement has several encouraging aspects for the seafood industry, including “recognise the potential for aquaculture in promoting regional economic growth”.

Many regional economies and coastal communities are boosted by aquaculture and fishing, which contributes an overall $4.2 billion to the New Zealand economy annually, according to a Berl analysis.

Given the industry invests heavily in science and innovation, proposals to “increase research and development spending to 2 percent of GDP over 10 years” and increasing support for National Science Challenges are also welcome.

The outlook for the seafood sector is bright. Stocks are sustainable, aquaculture is expanding, markets are strong.

MPI’s latest Situation and Outlook predicts seafood exports to rise to $1.85 billion in 2018 and nudge $2 billion in 2019.

There will no doubt be tensions at times with the new government but we approach it with confidence and goodwill.