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Ministerial inquiry launched into seafood sector

Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker has announced a ministerial inquiry into the use and allocation of migrant labour in the seafood sector. File Photo/SunLive.

Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker today announced a ministerial inquiry into the use and allocation of migrant labour in the seafood sector.

Parker says the inquiry will focus on the sector’s reliance on migrant labour, and how to transition it away from that reliance.

“It will also examine how to accelerate efforts to attract more New Zealanders into rewarding jobs in the seafood sector.

“It will take in all commercial seafood activities, including deep-sea fishing, inshore fishing, aquaculture activities, and seafood processing.”

Parker says Covid-19 border restrictions have highlighted the sector’s vulnerability due to its reliance on migrant labour.

That has sped up industry and government efforts to increase New Zealanders’ participation in the sector.

It is estimated the peak number of migrant workers in the sector in the year ending March 2019 was about 1850, 20 per cent, although there are likely to be fewer now.

“Some businesses in the sector have reduced their reliance on migrant workers since border restrictions were imposed, but some deep sea vessels in particular are still 100 per cent foreign-crewed,” Parker says.

“The inquiry will do a stocktake of the current state of the seafood sector’s workforce and determine what a more resilient seafood workforce – with a greater proportion of New Zealanders – could look like, and how this might be achieved.

“I have appointed independent inquirers to lead this work and report back to me by 29 October.”

The seafood industry welcomes the Ministerial Inquiry into the Use and Allocation of Migrant Labour in the Seafood Sector in a press release from Seafood New Zealand today.

“The industry is well aware of the desire of government to reduce migrant workers across many sectors and the seafood industry is already engaged with government on a plan to transition more New Zealanders into the industry.

“That transition will be challenging and take time but we look forward to the Inquiry’s recommendations into how we can reduce our reliance on migrant labour and how automation and innovation might play a role in that.”

Parker says Peter Wilson will chair the inquiry.

“As a Principal Economist at the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, Peter brings a wealth of expertise and experience to the inquiry.

“He will be joined by Greg Johansson, who has an extensive background in the seafood sector, and by experienced economist and former Treasury official Julie Fry.

The seafood sector will have an opportunity to input into the inquiry and their feedback will help inform the inquirers’ report and recommendations, says Parker.

“This work will provide the information we need to understand where improvements can be made so the industry can be more resilient and more New Zealanders can have the opportunity to participate in the industry.”

Seafood New Zealand welcomes analysis of the barriers preventing the further ‘New Zealandisation’ of the workforce and are pleased that Greg Johanssen, who has extensive experience in the seafood industry, will join NZIER’s Peter Wilson and Julie Fry in conducting the Inquiry.

The Government wants to find ways for the seafood sector to have a lighter touch on the environment while delivering higher quality products for greater return.

“Doing this takes innovation and fresh ideas. To that end, I’ll be working together with industry on a transformation plan that will set a path towards these goals.

“I will be bringing a plan to Cabinet for consideration in due course,” says Parker.

“We are already taking some significant steps towards the Government’s vision of a sustainable and resilient industry.

“They include the recent announcement of a wider rollout of cameras to inshore fishing vessels, new rules about discarding and what fish must be landed and a raft of measures to improve the health of the Hauraki Gulf.

“As the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor’s recent report into fisheries has indicated, there is more to do.

“Work is underway to develop a formal response to the report’s recommendations. I will make this public later this year,” says Parker.

The inquiry will be supported by a secretariat provided by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

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