30 May 2012

Questions over impact of reflagging foreign fishing vessels

9:02 am on 30 May 2012

The reflagging of foreign charter fishing vessels could give domestic companies the opportunity to expand their fleets and employ more people, but questions remain over whether the industry is capable of going it alone.

The Government last week announced a four year transition period for foreign charter vessels to come under New Zealand control, following recommendations of a ministerial inquiry into the industry.

About half the deepsea fleet in New Zealand waters are foreign charter vessels, catching about 60% of the fish, making up about 40% of the total export value.

Thirteen of those vessels are from Korea and a further 13 from Japan, the Ukraine and the Caribbean sea island nation, Dominica.

About 1500 foreign fishermen crew these vessels each year.

Major fishing companies say costs will increase with reflagging, and that they will have to purchase more boats.

The Deepwater Group represents deepsea fishing companies. Chief executive George Clement says whether New Zealand can go it alone, is a big unanswered question.

Maritime lawyer Peter Dawson of Nelson practiced in his native country, South Africa several years ago at a time when it ended the use of foreign charter vessels for catching tuna.

He says New Zealand can catch all of its fish, independent of foreign charter vessels.

Professional Skipper magazine editor Keith Ingram, a former commercial fisherman, says there are plenty of good quality vessels that could be leased by New Zealand fishing companies.

The Westport Deepsea Fishing School trains up to 100 people each year to work aboard vessels owned by companies such as Talleys, Sealord and Sanford.

Director Peter Maich says all graduates are capable of working aboard these ships.

The fishing industry is New Zealand's fifth biggest export earner at $1.5 billion.