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Anderton: Treaty Tribes Coalition conference

7 April 2008 Speech

Treaty Tribes Coalition conference War Memorial Convention Centre, Napier

I would like to start with an acknowledgement of the tangata whenua, Ngati Kahungunu ki Heretaunga.

Also representatives from Maori fishing around New Zealand. I pay respects to you. And I would like to acknowledge the representatives of the wider fishing industry who are with us here today as well. I acknowledge also the conference organisers, the Treaty Tribes Coalition. I know you have heard from my cabinet colleague, Parekura Horomia. I won't go over the same ground. I wanted to come and talk to you after I read a story in the newspaper. It said organisers were hoping I would attend. Never one to duck a challenge, I asked if I could come, because I think we have some important things to talk about.

First of all I want to talk to you because I think fishing and aquaculture have a very exciting future. The future is especially exciting for Maori, because Maori have a huge role in fishing and aquaculture. Our seafood exports are worth over $3 million a day to New Zealand.

The industry is seven times bigger today than it was 20 years ago. For all the growth, however, we are only poised at the threshold of a booming global market. The United Nations estimates the global demand for seafood will increase by a third over the next ten years. Already this year we have seen climbing prices for fish in global markets as demand outstrips supply. So there are huge opportunities for the industry. Maori are going to be a huge part of that growth. For all the excitement that I believe is justified about the future of the industry, its growth will not happen by accident.

We will only be able to position to enjoy the emerging opportunities if we look after our fish stocks. We can only hope to supply the world demand if we make sure we manage our fish resource so that it's there for the future. We will stand a good chance of achieving a premium for our products in world markets if we can position our catch as the most sustainably harvested in the world. Your conference theme puts you on top of this issue.

It stresses the need for Maori to ensure fishing is sustainable environmentally - as well as economically, socially, politically and culturally. And it recognises that all these dimensions are closely related. After all, Maori fishing covers commercial, recreational and customary fishing - often in the same fishery. I want to say to you that we have a challenge in making our fishery truly sustainable. And I'm here to ask for your help in meeting this challenge - not as a matter of helping me, but as a matter of helping sustain our fishery. There are some hard messages about this. I'm under no illusion that you don't need me coming here to tell you what to do with your fish.

I remember a few years ago a health official who wanted to try an anti-smoking project up on the east coast. They sent in educators from Wellington, and nothing much happened. Then they handed over responsibility for making it happen to the locals and they held a meeting on the marae - and the first thing they did was decide there would be no smoking on the marae. Now, if someone from Wellington had proposed that, there would have been an uproar. But when the community did it for itself, there was a positive outcome.

So I have a hard message about our fisheries today. And I am saying I want you to take ownership for meeting the challenge of sustainability.

Let me outline the challenge in a nutshell: I believe there is evidence that some of our fish stocks are in danger of collapse. But I can't prove it. The courts are saying I need to be completely sure before I act to protect the fishery. And I think the only time we will be completely sure is when the fishery is ruined.

I'll give you an example to show you what I mean - The example that brought the issue into focus was the Orange Roughy 1 area. Many of you will know about this issue, but I want to go over it carefully. Orange Roughy 1 covers much of the coast off the North Island.

The way the fish are spread and the way they group in the sea, it is very difficult to measure the size of the Orange Roughy stock with complete confidence. It's easy to over-estimate the stock because it is fished to the bottom - so you keep pulling more out until suddenly there are none left. If you make a mistake like that, you destroy the fish stock for decades. It might take a century to recover. Orange Roughy is a long-lived fish and it takes a long time to breed. What will happen if we allow Orange Roughy to be fished down to levels below the maximum sustainable yield? I think it would be a massive Treaty breach.

The Treaty explicitly guarantees Maori will be able to keep their right to fish - and we have only just in recent years restored that historical right.

If, after all we have been through, the government now said 'you can have your share of the fish, but there are none left' - that would be a cynical and irresponsible Treaty breach. There is no question that the administrative responsibilities conferred on the Crown in the Treaty explicitly require me to manage the resource better than that. But Maori have more immediate interests as well. If we allow fish stocks to be run down, that damages Maori because Maori fishing interests are here for the long haul.

I know, and you know, that Maori fishing interests aren't going anywhere else than New Zealand. And there is no other commercial fishing interest that could make that claim as unequivocally. So damage to the fish stock damages Maori most. Damaging the resource damages businesses even in sectors that aren't yet fished out. We will achieve a premium for our fish in global markets if consumers perceive our fish to be responsibly managed.

And we risk being punished if our environmental performance is poor, such as in our interactions with marine mammals or seabirds. Shoppers are increasingly making decisions about the sustainability of the products they buy. If shoppers in global markets know that fish from New Zealand is sustainably harvested, then we will have a built in marketing advantage.

If they hear we are driving entire species into collapse, whether they be orange roughy or Maui's dolphins, they are going to form a different view. We might not end up with much choice in the matter. As fish stocks around the world come under increasing pressure from rising demand, regulators are going to act to protect the resource. Over time, we can expect to see markets adopt restrictions on what can be bought and sold - determined by the sustainability of the catch. If we cannot say our harvest is among the best managed in the world, we will, sooner or later, face a regulatory response.

So for all these reasons it is unthinkable to stand by and do nothing when it looks like the Orange Roughy stock is being fished below sustainable levels. The problem is that I got taken to court and the court has issued its ruling. The judge ruled I can't set or change total allowable catch in the absence of an estimate of the biomass of the fish stock needed to produce the maximum sustainable yield.

Here's how that can affect the entire industry: Recently, I announced increases in some cray stocks, and in southern blue whiting. These increases will allow quota holders to earn millions of additional dollars from these fisheries. Those increases completely contradict the view I have heard from some around the industry that the total allowable catch is only ever reviewed downward. It isn't true. My recent rock lobster, and southern blue whiting decisions show I increase Total Allowable Commercial Catch too.

But the increases were made particularly difficult by the orange roughy decision. Despite indications of good health in the stocks concerned, estimates of the biomass needed to produce maximum sustainable yield were not part of the management regime. After significant additional effort, estimates were made, but this may not always be possible. Decisions about total allowable catch have used a range of indicators to check on the health of the stock.

This is consistent with international practice for determining whether fishing activity is sustainable. So here is how we have ended up - parts of the industry tried to stop me making decisions about sustainability when there was uncertainty.

What they have succeeded in doing is imposing a massive new cost on the entire sector and I am now rethinking the way we manage 'low information' stocks. The court case has made it most likely that we will need more scientific information and the cost of this will be levied upon you, the industry. This is what I call an own goal!

I believe we need to work together to find a legislative fix to this problem and I have directed the Ministry to begin talks with your representatives. We should act before we damage the standing of the industry in the eyes of global consumers. We should act because the way the system works now, following the court case, is extraordinarily costly for the industry. Maori are going to pay the price because your involvement in the industry is so central. If information is uncertain, we should lean on the side of protecting the fishery, not risking its destruction. Fish left in the sea are fish in the bank. To keep on taking fish when you don't have a good idea of how many are left is, in my view, like robbing the bank.

And let's just be clear about this - why would anyone interested in the long term vitality and growth of the fishing industry want to risk destroying the very resource it is based on? A short-term focus, based on narrow self-interest is not just selfish and myopic. It is indefensible, and self-defeating. So far my invitation to Maori commercial fishers to help in developing a new approach to managing uncertainty in fisheries management hasn't been forthcoming. How does it help Maori fishing business in the long term if stocks are depleted? What sort of basis for building a future is that?

This is not about undermining the Deed of Settlement. This is about future proofing the settlement and safeguarding the resource for future generations. The amendments needed will not lead to wholesale changes in current TACCs. Over time, in some situations where information is uncertain and there are signals for concern, there may well be some constraints in short-term utilisation of some fisheries, but only where caution is required. This precautionary approach will be balanced by less cost for industry in having to produce perfectly researched management information. Short-term inconveniences will help to ensure a more sustainable base for the industry in the long-term. If you go fishing for an unsustainable legal framework, that allows your resource to risk being destroyed, you will surely end up living with the consequences.

Not just now - but, in the case of Orange Roughy, at least - for decades after all of us here have moved on. I want Maori to come to the table on this challenge. What we can't do is pretend there is no sustainability challenge before us. What we can't do is charge ahead as if the stock doesn't need to be managed. What we can't do is impose costs on the industry that cripple its ability to grow. I have seen a head in the sand attitude.

I read in the programme for this conference that the biggest threat to the fishing industry lies in a poor public perception created by environmental NGOs and government 'buy-in' to that perception. That is the kind of statement that could only be made in ignorance of the facts. The facts show that it is wrong.

If you think I am being led around by environmental NGOs, you might want to count up the number of times I have been attacked by them. I got sackfuls of postcards from baby sealions asking me not to kill them. I have been attacked by the NGOs when I have stood up for the industry over sealion by-catch in the squid fishery, over the Benthic Protection Areas and over hoki. I was attacked by the NGOs when I argued for a balanced and strategic approach to fisheries management.

So suggestions the government is ignoring the industry and favouring NGOs are naïve, untrue and reflect immaturity on the part of the industry. The industry wants to be taken seriously. Do you seriously think I am going to take that kind of untrue, ill-founded and destructive comment seriously? Do you think it is going to help fix issues facing the industry?

If you keep attacking a fisheries minister who has consistently stuck up for the industry - then ask yourself what other fisheries ministers who come after me will learn. They will learn that there is no margin at all in trying to work with the industry. All of us are used to sitting on the sidelines at the football and jibing at Graham Henry or the referee or the players. But we don't expect it to make much difference.

If you barrack in a partisan and unfounded way like you are at a sports match, do you think the industry will continue to be taken seriously. So I will look for you to hold yourselves to account for these comments, and I will understand how serious you are by what you do about it. If there is a single example of where the industry's perceptions have got out of line with reality, it is in the perception that you are bearing a greater proportion of the costs of fisheries management than in previous years.

It is true that the costs of fisheries management have risen. That's because 50 new fish stocks have been brought into the quota management system since 2002. That demands more science staff. It's because there is an increased workload meeting Treaty settlements and related policies. It's because there has been an increase in fisheries operations staff to work on the fisheries planning and Treaty deed of settlement obligations with fisheries stakeholders. This means working with customary, commercial and recreational stakeholders. So which of these policies would you like me to drop off the work programme?

The Treaty settlements work? Of course not. But here's the truth. Though the cost of fisheries management has increased, the cost to the industry has not. The cost to the industry in 2002-2003 was around $34 million. It was 34 million two years later. And in 2007-08 year it is now $33 million. The proportion of Ministry of Fisheries costs born by the industry has actually dropped - from half the Ministry of Fisheries costs six years ago, to barely a third - 35 percent, last year. So don't then print in your programme the comment that the government is not prepared to work with the industry.

The facts don't back you up. Just because the Government doesn't always agree with you doesn't meant that it is not prepared to work with the industry. On the environmental front, for example, the Ministry of Fisheries and other government agencies have been working to develop the framework for an environmental certification system that the industry can utilise to brand their product.

Where a fishery meets agreed standards for certification, there would be far less scope for attacks on the sector's environmental credentials. If there is a positive upside to the pressures on our wild fish stocks, it is the increasing value for aquaculture. This expanding Maori involvement in aquaculture is very important for New Zealand, and for Maori. I am committed to assisting the development of the aquaculture sector in New Zealand and working with the industry to advance their vision. When we released "Our Blue Horizon" aquaculture programme in June last year, the government set out a plan to support the future growth of aquaculture in New Zealand.

One of the main points is promoting Maori success in aquaculture. I acknowledge, for example, the pioneering work of Ngati Kahungunu, Whakatohea and other iwi to move into deepwater aquaculture, with applications for new farms in Hawke Bay and the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Though these ventures will be risky and resource intensive, they show the vision and leadership of Maori in advancing the aquaculture technology being used in New Zealand. The government is committed to playing our part.

There is an Aquaculture Implementation Programme. It works across all the relevant government departments, regional councils and Te Ohu Kaimoana.

The programme is aimed at addressing issues around effective Maori participation in aquaculture - building Maori capacity and knowledge around planning for aquaculture development and also encouraging commercial ventures between Maori and industry. On top of that, I have been working with the primary industries to develop 'Fast Forward' - the largest single investment in research and science in New Zealand's history.

The goal is to create a capital fund to advance research in the food and beverage sector.

The seafood sector is able to apply to this fund. I have seen examples of how that could be very exciting. Last year I opened a purpose-built eel research centre at Mahurangi, near Warkworth. The eel farming industry is highly valued world-wide. In Tokyo there is a restaurant where eel dishes are so highly prized that there are two separate entrances: one for ordinary Japanese cuisine and another exclusively for eel dishes.

But we can't develop eel aquaculture until we can breed eels in captivity. And this facility in Northland is doing world leading research. It aims to be the first in the world to produce commercial quantities of eels in captivity. If we can succeed in this, we will be able to develop a self-sustaining eel farming industry. Then we won't hammer the wild eel population. Eel aquaculture could potentially be New Zealand's next big aquaculture species.

This is a good example of how research and knowledge can lead to higher living standards.

The world has no more natural resources than it did a hundred years ago - in fact, we arguably have fewer. We have no more water, land, minerals or energy than we had then!

But our standard of living is so much higher it is unrecognisable. What changed in the last century is that we have added knowledge to those ingredients at a staggering pace.

And the more we add knowledge, the higher our standard of living grows and the better we can be at sustaining our resources. In other words, if we want a higher standard of living, better incomes, jobs for our young people and a future for our regions, then we need to keep adding knowledge to our primary industries. If we want a high quality, high-value future, we need to keep innovating. We do that through science, research and skills. Increasing research to add value to our fisheries and aquaculture resources is a critical factor in gaining best value.

I am committed to working with the seafood sector on ways for them to be involved in these programmes.

We are in a time of real opportunity - and real challenge - for all our primary industries. All of them, including fishing, are being challenged on their environmental credentials. We need to make sure our production is sustainable. We need to work together to put in place the legal framework and sound practices which reflect the intention of the New Zealand fisheries regime to provide for utilisation while ensuring sustainability.

These values are fully compatible with kaitiakitanga, and Maori fishers can take a leadership role in meeting this challenge.

I am pleased you are focused on these issues at this conference. I urge you to take up the hardest parts of the challenge. And if you are prepared to do so, I can assure you the government will work co-operatively and constructively with you.


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