4 Dec 2014

Change needed, fishing body tells MPs

7:28 pm on 4 December 2014

The body overseeing the Māori fishing quota, Te Ohu Kaimoana, says the industry needs to be revitalised so it can take advantage of New Zealand's fish stocks and improve on meagre returns.

fish in bin

Te Ohu Kaimoana chief executive Peter Douglas says tangata whenua are still getting to grips with the quota system. Photo: PHOTO NZ

At a select committee hearing at Parliament today, the directors spoke about the organisation's development since it started in 2004 and outlined changes that are needed.

Te Ohu Kaimoana leaders were questioned by MPs about the steps it is taking to help iwi and Māori fishing companies get better returns.

Chairperson Matiu Rei told them that the country's biggest Māori-owned fisheries company, Aotearoa Fisheries, is leading efforts to invest more in the industry and some iwi are investing in Sealord.

However, more capital is needed as the industry ages, he says.

"Capital is a current issue that we're having within the group on how we can raise capital because there is a need to invest in vessels that's true. Our onshore fleet is looking old and tired, our skippers are getting old and tired so there needs to be a rejuvenation."

Te Ohu Kaimoana chief executive Peter Douglas told politicians that there are facilities within Treaty settlements to swap assets, make alliances and work together, but admits tangata whenua are still getting to grips with the quota system.

"We're pretty new to these circumstances that the quota management system introduced in 1986 gave us an opportunity to return to the fishing industry in the way that we have so we're still getting our heads around it, he says.

"The settlement assets as they are for each iwi, they don't always make commercial sense when you look at the package that people get, but that's because they were a political compromise at the time."

Mr Douglas says people are not always aware of difficulties in the industry.

"It's easy for some people to say, 'Why don't you just buy a fishing boat?' but if you are going to buy a deep sea boat you want to make sure you buy a good one that's going to be durable - it's $30 million to $50 million. $35 million is what's generated by the Māori fisheries assets each year. You'd have to talk a whole lot of people into deferring a whole lot of other activities."

Te Ohu Kaimoana executives were challenged by MP Damien O'Connor to justify its heavy investment in Sealord when a Japanese company, Nissui, owns 50 percent of it.

But Mr Douglas dismissed his concerns, saying there are many advantages to the arrangement.

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