Mar 19, 2012

Iwi back slavery on our seas

I’ve been meaning to read the Swain report on slave fishing, but - yes there’s always a but - I haven’t found the time. Instead, I browsed summaries, news reports and the like. The story goes something like this: last year the Sunday Star Times revealed that workers on foreign fishing vessels were being underpaid, forced to work in unsafe conditions, beaten and sexually abused. In other words, the workers were basically slaves. The story forced the government to act so the Minister, at the time Phil Heatley if I remember correctly, launched an inquiry. The result is the Swain report. The report recommends full reform of the industry. Unfortunately, the government is not picking up on all of the report’s recommendations, only the cosmetic stuff like increasing observers. Never mind extending New Zealand laws, like Health and Safety in Employment Act, to foreign vessels. In my opinion, this isn’t good enough.

Now, you’re probably thinking what does this have to do with Maori. Well, many of the foreign vessels guilty of slave fishing are fishing on behalf of Maori. Maori sell the rights to their catch because, the argument goes, Maori do not have the capacity to fish their quota themselves. This is true, but it’s also a massive cop out.

Maori unemployment is more than double the national rate. With that in mind, iwi should be doing all they can to create jobs. Iwi should have Maori crew working Maori owned vessels. Of course, some have argued that iwi can’t afford to own their own boats. First of all, this isn’t true of all iwi. Secondly, if iwi can’t afford to own and crew their own vessels, and I strongly suspect this isn’t true, why not invest in bareboat chartering. This involves hiring an empty boat, providing your own crew and fishing your quota. Jobs are created and the cost of owning the vessel isn’t a factor. And, importantly, the slave fishing issue is eliminated.

The decision to contract out, read iwi’s decision to sell their quota, is nothing more than a ruthless business decision. Selling ones quota is more profitable than investing in fishing it yourself – in the short term at least. Taking the long view, it makes more sense to invest in your own vessels and crew and, as a result, create sustainable jobs and a more diverse and resilient Maori economy.

If iwi leaders fail to move on this issue, then they’re morally bankrupt. They are, in other words, complicit in slavery. If this was Maori getting, say, raped at sea you can bet that iwi leaders would be encouraging Maori to blow up Parliament. 

At the moment, the only Maori seeing the benefits of the Maori fishing quota are the iwi elite. Maori aren’t in fishing jobs and the revenue that is generated from contracting out our quota certainly isn’t “trickling down”. We should demand better.

1 comment:

  1. Kiaora Morgan

    Some good points. Ngai Tahu Seafood ran a Ngai Tahu fishers programme designed to get young Bluff fishermen into boats with an amount of lease quote to go with it. Not sure where it is at and whether TRONT politics have got in the way of it.

    Key issue is having enough quota to be able to get Iwi fishers into the business. A lot of quota packages are simply not adequate (qty wise) to enable our Iwi fishers to fish (Iwi fish packages in themselves are often not economic unless Iwi fishers can secure lease quota from other companies e.g. AFL).

    The unpalatable alternative is to lease the quota to fishing companies who then bring in the slave ships. Not trying to excuse the quota owner however - still need to take responsibility for the fact it is their Iwi quota being fished by those slave ships.



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