Seafood was a strong performer in the latest primary sector export review.

The sector’s exports returned $1.8 billion in the year to June 30, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries’ latest situation and outlook released this week.

And growth is forecast to crack the $2 billion mark in mid-2020 thanks to an annual 6.4 percent increase over the next two years.

Increased aquaculture production, notably salmon and mussels, along with rising prices, is expected to lift aquaculture export revenue to $500 million, up from a current $406 million.

Rock lobster, mussels and hoki continued to be the top three export earners.

The Chinese, European and US markets have been growing, while Australian and Japanese demand has remained steady.

Prices are expected to remain high given the strong demand from our key markets, combined with lower levels of global supply of wild capture fisheries expected in coming years, the review said.

Overall primary sector exports reached a record high of $42.7 billion, an exceptional increase of 11.8 percent.

The presentation at the Wellington Club was also the occasion of Martyn Dunne’s retirement after five years as MPI director-general.

In paying tribute, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said he had advised Dunne that MPI was not the Army and people did not have to obey his orders.

More subtle skills were needed.

“I think at times that became a challenge.”

Another challenge was “two years of being nice to Australians” in his role as High Commissioner to Australia.

Former Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, who worked closely with Dunne, said he always knew when the s*** was about to hit the fan as Dunne would start the conversation with a distinctive dry cough and Guy would think “here we go”.

His key saying was “don’t worry I’m going to grip this up” and he would, Guy said.

In a lengthy address, Dunne encompassed his years from a 17-year-old trainee schoolteacher to the military and diplomatic and public service.

He was formerly Comptroller of Customs and Commander Joint Forces New Zealand with the rank of major general.

As MPI head, Dunne dealt with numerous crises, including contaminated infant baby formula, a 1080 terrorist, Kauri dieback, microplasma bovis, bonamia, pea weevil, fruit fly and myrtle rust.

And what of his legacy in the seafood sector?

There has been a fair bit of foofing and faffing but little progress on fisheries reform.

A pan-primary sector cost recovery review has sunk without trace and the seafood industry is forced to continue to contribute $30-35 million every year, $12 million of which disappears into a black hole termed enforcement.

There is no transparency, no obligation to be cost effective, no strategy and no measurables.

But the industry has seen a move to electronic reporting, proposed for rollout across the entire fleet from early next year.

Overall though it could be argued the sector has prospered in spite of, rather than because of, MPI.

The bureaucracy was given a shake-up under new minister Stuart Nash, with the creation of a separate Fisheries New Zealand business unit within MPI, which Dunne opposed, but it is yet to find its feet.

Ray Smith, currently Corrections head, takes over as MPI director-general on Nov 1.

For a man of Dunne’s energy and drive, total retirement from public life at the age of 68 is unlikely to appeal and he may well pop up in another role.

In the meantime the drums are beating for a New Year gong to add to his New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of an extraordinary record.

Arise, Sir Martyn?