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Fisheries amending legislation introduced

Fisheries amending legislation introduced

Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson has introduced legislation that will see $24.6 million returned to the New Zealand fishing industry through a reduction in future levies. The Bill also corrects a drafting mistake in the Fisheries Act identified recently by the Court of Appeal.

The Fisheries Amendment Bill (No 2) validates and implements a settlement agreed between the Crown and the commercial seafood industry, announced in February 2003, concerning the under- and over-recovery of fisheries and conservation services costs by the Ministry of Fisheries. These costs have been recovered from the fishing industry since 1994.

A joint working group of fishing industry representatives and Ministry of Fisheries officials unanimously recommended that the $24.6 million be returned through a reduction in future fish stock levies. To ensure the settlement is full and final the Bill validates the settlement, the historical levy orders made between 1 October 1994 and 30 September 2002, and the cost recovery rules.

Mr Hodgson said passage of the Bill would conclude the settlement of a long-standing issue to the satisfaction of all parties.

“To provide early relief for levy payers I have agreed to repeal the October 2003 levy order for fisheries and conservation services until the legislation enacting the settlement is passed. I expect a new levy order to be implemented on 1 April 2004, with the first invoices being sent out after 30 April 2004. This is intended to provide the first benefits of the settlement for levy payers without waiting for the completion of the legislative process.

“I am grateful for the hard work and effort of all those involved in the joint working group process, both members of the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council and officials of the Ministry of Fisheries. This complicated issue has taken some time to resolve, as it concerns levies recovered up to eight years ago."

Implementing the settlement as a credit against future levies at a fishstock level will take two years to complete for the majority of levy payers and up to seven years for some fishstock categories.

The other part of the Fisheries Amendment Bill (No 2) proposes a clarification to the law that has become necessary because of recent court cases. Section 233 is the highest band of offence provisions in the Fisheries Act, aimed at commercial poaching and black market offending. The original provision under section 233 made it an offence to knowingly contravene the Act for the purpose of obtaining a benefit under the Act. The Court of Appeal held that commercial gain was not a benefit under the Act, a finding that has prevented the Ministry bringing some prosecutions to a successful conclusion.

The Court of Appeal noted that there had almost certainly been a drafting mistake that had the unfortunate result of making an offence provision largely ineffective and recommended early consideration be given to legislative clarification. The Bill amends the Act to reflect the original Parliamentary intent that those convicted of commercial poaching and black market offences should expect severe penalties.

The Primary Production Select Committee will be asked to report back on the Bill.

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