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National's hypocrisy bottomless - Cullen

"Either National's hypocrisy is bottomless or it is in the grip of mass amnesia," acting Fisheries Minister Michael Cullen said today.

"There is no other explanation for the attitude the National Opposition is taking toward the Fisheries Bill now going through its third reading in Parliament.

"I have to keep pinching myself to remember that this is the same party which decided in government that no compensation was due to commercial fishers who might have their catch history reduced by up to 20 percent," Dr Cullen said.

Dr Cullen was commenting on legislation to enable the eight species on the Fourth Schedule of the Fisheries Act 1996 to be brought into the Quota Management System. The schedule includes the South Island eel fishery which has to be brought into the QMS by 1 October to satisfy the terms of the 1998 Ngai Tahu Settlement. Other Fourth Schedule species are due to be brought into the QMS from 2002.

"National is now arguing that the bill should cover only the South Island eel resource and that the other seven species should be held out for further negotiation with industry stakeholders on a compensation regime.

"National told those same stakeholders to "get lost" when it was in office. It took the election of the Labour-Alliance Government to get fishers a fair deal.

"In fact what we are offering is more than fair. It is generous. We estimate the package is worth almost $50 million all up - around $4.5 million in direct payments and $45 million in assets," Dr Cullen said.

Under the Fisheries Settlement negotiated between Crown and Maori in 1992, it was agreed that the Crown would allocate 20 percent of the total allowable commercial catch to Maori as species were introduced to the QMS.

This means in effect that many current fishers will have their catch history reduced by up to 20 percent to enable the Crown to meet its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.

"The Government will compensate them by paying them half the market value for this 20 percent. That is where the $4.5 million will go.

"They will be getting an asset they can sell, and from which they will get a capital gain. Unlike a fishing licence which must be renewed each year, quota is issued in perpetuity and therefore carries stronger property rights.

"Our advice is that the 80 percent stake has a current value of $45 million. Licence holders will be getting that at no charge," Dr Cullen said.


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