Govt support for fishers changing methods not enough, some say

Fishers say the money on offer from the government to help some of them adopt more dolphin-friendly methods falls well short and will put some out of business.

The government estimated the cost to the sector of new bans on set nets around much of the South Island and the West Coast of the North Island was between $30 and $70 million.

A deal was on the table but the government was refusing to reveal how much money was on offer.

New Plymouth’s Egmont Seafoods sells fish on behalf of set-netting boats, which mostly ends up in local fish and chip shops.

Its head, Keith Mawson, wouldn’t say how much his fishers were getting from the government, but said it only equated to about a year’s worth of income and went nowhere near meeting the cost of moving to the more dolphin-friendly long lines.

“These guys are carrying debt so it might give them an opportunity to clear some debt and if they’re going to exit the industry, I suppose they’ll end up on the dole queue like a whole lot of other people,” Mawson said.

Two of the set netters that supplied him with fish may have to sell their boats and look for a different line of work due to the changes.

“Each time we go through a review process, we get pushed further out to sea. Even though we’ve had observers on vessels for the last eight years, we’ve got cameras on vessels now, there’s been no observations of Māui dolphins, but we’re being pushed further and further and further off the coast,” one said.

Mawson said while the money might cover the cost of replacing set nets with long lines, that wasn’t the whole picture.

The extra effort and money needed to catch fish on a long line required fishers to target higher value species such as snapper.

The money on offer came nowhere near the amount needed to purchase quota for these fish, he said.

“That’s probably the disappointing part. We’ve been discussing this with Fisheries New Zealand or MPI for the last four or five years about transitioning, we’ve been trying to get them to remove observers off the boats which have cost in excess of a million dollars and utilise that money to help these guys transition.”

Another fisher, who asked not to be identified, said he did not qualify at all for a payment because his operation was too big.

He estimated he would lose over $400,000 in revenue as a result of the measures which prevented one of his boats from using its set nets.

“If they take land off you, they have got to give you money. If they decide to change the rules around firearms, they give you money. There was a situation a few years ago where cows got taken off farmers because of that disease that was floating around. Farmers were given money… Is that equitable? I don’t think it’s equitable at all.”

This fisher said set nets were a less expensive way for new players to get in to fishing, but that was being taken away.

“Fishing’s an industry under siege really… the media seem to have a go at big business and fishing. But that’s not the whole industry, there’s an awful lot of small players like us and coastal communities. The fishing industry is not all big corporates like Talley’s and Sanfords and Sealord.”

In announcing the new protections, the minister for fisheries, Stuart Nash, said the money on offer to 25 of the most hard-hit fishers was fair.