The Parliament’s primary production select committee wants to give foreign fishing vessels loopholes to get around registering under a New Zealand flag in their report back on legislation forcing the ships to change their colours.
The committee, chaired by National MP Shane Ardern, has recommended an amendment to the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill that would let the chief executive of the Ministry for Primary Industries grant exemptions to reflagging.
The tweaks would let the MPI boss let foreign vessels fly their national colours if they are only fishing for certain types of tuna, if the boat will be used for approved or commissioned fishing-related research, if the operator held catch entitlement that came from a settlement quota, or if doing so is in New Zealand’s interests or that a boat comes under “sufficient” local control during the exemption.
“We considered the desirability of inserting definitions of these terms, to provide some protection from possible litigation against the chief executive’s discretion, but decided on balance that the wording of the amendment would give the chief executive sufficient flexibility in making an assessment, and that this discretion is desirable,” the report said.
“We urge the ministry to liaise with foreign governments and vessel operators who may be affected by the reflagging requirement, to discuss ways to minimise any adverse effects,” it said.
Last year, then-Primary Industries Minister David Carter and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson jointly said foreign-flagged vessels won’t be able to operate legally after a four-year transition period in a move to put the ships under New Zealand labour and maritime law.
The decision was in response to a Ministerial Inquiry, headed by former cabinet minister Paul Swain, in response to the mistreatment and underpayment of crews working on some boats. The inquiry was launched after 32 Indonesian crew aboard the Oyang 75 walked off the vessel, alleging abuse by the ship’s Korean crew.
MPI officials thought reflagging foreign ships was the best option to protect New Zealand’s reputation, though it would have “uncertain economic impacts” such as losing access to vessels, with a lower value attached to the annual catch entitlement (ACE), and increased operating costs may cause smaller domestic companies to become unprofitable, according to the regulatory impact statement.
The ministry said the annual $300 million cost touted by industry was a worst-case scenario and unlikely to occur as existing foreign chartered vessels in local waters are known to have reflagged in other jurisdictions.
Foreign chartered vessels make up about $302 million of New Zealand’s annual $1.53 billion seafood exports.
Parliament’s primary production select committee considered whether reflagging was too onerous, but decided a similar “deeming” model used in Australia wouldn’t meet the government’s goals.
The Green Party, represented by Steffan Browning on the committee, gave a minority view disagreeing with the exemptions for specific tuna species, and said it will watch the MPI chief executive’s use of allowing exemptions in the country’s interests.
“Such an exemption must not be a loophole that fails the original intent of the bill,” the Green Party said.