In the second of a three-part inquiry into New Zealand's fishing industry, Andrea Fox looks at the commercial sector.
"I haven't met a fisherman or a company that's not an environmentalist. I think they all say the same thing, want to do the same thing, they just talk about it in different ways."
Andrew Talley, scion of the Talley's fishing and food group, has been asked for his thoughts on the commercial fishing industry's pursuit of a social licence to operate in the face of increasingly strident opponents - including their recreational fishing brethren.
MORE FROM THE SERIES:
• Part 1: The fight for NZ's $6 billion catch
• Today: The commercial sector
• Monday: Spotlight on recreational fishing
The fact that Talley is speaking publicly at all is a minor miracle.
The family-owned Talley's is notoriously publicity shy, despite being one of the country's biggest, most enduring and successful businesses.
But it seems the invitation to talk about the $4.5 billion commercial fishing sector was just too good to refuse - even if just to get some facts out there.
Fishing gets passions firing - whether you're a Talley running a big fleet that employs 400 people at sea, or just someone who throws a line over the side of a dingy off Cook's Beach on a nice Sunday morning.
Like other industry leaders, Talley is in good spirits. "There's really strong demand, the resource is sound ... sustainable and healthy.
"All the big-ticket items, the resource, the demand, where New Zealand fits in terms of its practices, its skill level in harvesting these resources, the science ability in working out sustainable yields - they're all excellent and in good health.
"Generally we are very optimistic. But it's not without challenge - I don't see any primary industry today that's not."
Those challenges - which include a tight employment market, rising costs, trade tensions, the need to decarbonise, climate change and environmental issues such as the critically endangered native Maui dolphin - aren't going away, says Talley.
But they need to be faced.
"We are 100 per cent dependent on the health of the oceans to harvest our resource. Without that we're at real risk. Sedimentation, waste run-off, a higher level of pollution - oceans aren't an endless thing. All these lower the life-supporting capacity of the ocean and the productivity of our various fisheries."
Lowering the industry's impact at sea - whether that's reducing the bycatch of mammals, more selective fishing, better packaging choices, better energy options - is a must, but a challenging must, says Talley.
"All those things have trade-offs, whether it's lower catches, higher costs, less efficiencies - but people need to understand what those trade-offs are."
Talley's is the third largest quota holder out of about 800 quota owners in New Zealand's unique fisheries management regime. As well as 10 big deepsea vessels, the Motueka-based group's fishing division is serviced by a fleet of more than 80 individual owner-operators. Some have their own quota, some use the company's.
He says there are "a lot of myths and half-truths" around the fishing industry.
"A lot of it is driven by campaigns to discredit it.
"If you look at the facts, the industry is performing very, very well. Look at the science and the facts. It is frequently described as well managed, as the best in the world. And it will get better."
The industry is also frequently characterised as a bunch of large quota holders, says Talley, when in fact it's far wider than that.
There are more than 1000 commercially-registered fishing vessels in New Zealand. Ninety per cent of the industry are small owner-operators, processors, retailers and wholesalers, he says.
"With 25,000 people employed, it's quite diverse. Look at Greymouth, Motueka, Bluff, Westport, Picton - the fishing industry is a large part of those communities and reaches deep into coastal communities."
Volker Kuntzsch, chief executive of listed industry heavyweight Sanford, is another in whom the passion runs strong.
The German-born, Arnold Schwarzenegger sound-alike says having worked internationally for 25 years, he can look at the industry from the outside.
"It looks as if New Zealand has its fisheries management well under control. People complain and find all sorts of reasons why it should be discredited but on an international scale we do a fantastic job.
"I'm a scientist orginally and I know we look after our fish stocks. I feel I'm working in the right country. It aligns with my passions and my values for the industry.
"We have the most diverse array of species. We are a South Pacific nation with over 130 species under management, which no other nation can claim, and most of these are in a good state."
If these industry leaders sound a tad defensive, it's little wonder.
The anti-fishing voices of environmental groups such as Greenpeace - and closer to home, recreational fishing lobbyist LegaSea - are growing more strident.
Kuntzsch acknowledges that the commercial side "has not always done the right thing".
"We are responsible for degrading the substrate in areas like the Hauraki Gulf. The mussel beds that were there were trawled away by heavy gear on the bottom of the ocean. We have over-caught.
"There was a very different appreciation for the finiteness of fish. People thought the same all over the world - that fish were forever. They'll just grow back."
But that was before 1986, when it was a race for the last fish, stocks were near collapse and the Government stepped in with legislation and a world-leading control regime called the quota management system (QMS).
Kuntzsch isn't taking the recreational sector's criticism on the chin.
"As a scientist I would love recreational fishermen to monitor their catches, and also to highlight how much has gone back overboard because it wasn't the legal size - because the impact is massive."
Like Tim Pankhurst, chief executive of fishing industry association Seafood NZ, Kuntzsch says it's a myth that fish stocks are in big trouble.
"We are not in a situation where we are facing the extinction of certain fish stocks ... a lot of effort has gone into doing the right thing because we have realised these resources are finite, so we find different ways of handling things. We want to be in business for a long time and create value for a long time."
Pankhurst: "Yes, it has its flaws but overall our fisheries management system is proven, it has been adopted worldwide and it is sustainable. We are not going to run out of fish.
"With all those advantages, we should be hailing our fishers and harvesters as heroes - not constantly denigrating them as the anti-commercial fishing lobby does."
The bigger the business, the harsher the critics.
"There's a feeling of David versus Goliath," says Kuntzsch. "We are a big business - our vessels to go fishing for hoki cost $70 million to $80m. You have to be a big business to afford these."
If it sounds as though the industry is making a meal out of being misunderstood, Te Ohu Kaimoana chief executive Dion Tuuta offers another perspective. He heads an organisation which ensures that the integrity of Māori legislated fishing rights - commercial and customary - are protected and upheld. Iwi are major stakeholders in the industry, owning more than 33 per cent of total quota.
A charitable trust, Te Ohu Kaimoana is the eyes, ears and mouthpiece for the collective fishing interests of 58 iwi organisations. It works with Aotearoa Fisheries, which trades as Moana Fisheries and includes the biggest quota holder, Sealord, to ensure the sustainability of fishery resources.
"The vast majority of people don't understand how New Zealand's commercial fishing industry operates. Most New Zealanders don't understand anything about their food source," says Tuuta.
"Because of what I would classify as a significant amount of misinformation, there's quite a negative media, social media and ngo (non-governmental organisation) view of fisheries.
"That plays into the political dynamic of fisheries.
"You have societal shifts in the way people think about the world. For example, the current existential crisis around climate change drives political reaction to that issue, which depending on how an industry is viewed, can be positive or negative.
"It's an entirely political business where the levers of going bust or otherwise are entirely dictated by politicians and bureaucrats", Tuuta says.
"Some of that is because of evidence-based decision-making, but increasingly the concern I have is that it is a knee-jerk reaction to the changing views on social licence, which may or may not be grounded in fact, and more often than not, aren't."
Tuuta says recreational fishing is a "huge" pastime for Maori, but he doesn't pull any punches on what the industry sees as an imbalance in the regulatory treatment of commercial and recreational fishing.
He and Seafood NZ's Pankhurst claim politicians are terrified to impose regulations on the country's 600,000-odd pleasure fishers because of the potential voter backlash.
"A lot of people incorrectly label us as a Māori commercial fishing lobbyist - probably because whenever we have to take action, it's because Māori commercial rights are at risk. But no politician will mess with recreational fishing rights, and they certainly would be brave to restrict Māori customary fishing rights," says Tuuta.
Talley says there's "definitely" a growing concern about the politicisation of fishing- that outcomes are not for environmental, economic or resource-based purposes but for political ones.
But he thinks the Fisheries Act curbs that.
"We're lucky to have it. Any fishery management system in the world that's been politicised has failed. It's important our fisheries management decisions and our marine management generally is driven on facts and science, not politics."
But back to the fishing.
Sanford's Kuntzsch says another challenge for the industry is the accusation that it focuses too much on commodity exporting.
About 70 per cent of Sanford's business is commoditised.
"That's too much. We are trying to get to a number of about 50 per cent. Ideally, we don't want to sell anything as a commodity but in some circumstances there is no other way because that is exactly what the market wants. If you put more effort into [high value exports] it increases the cost and in the end it doesn't benefit the country."
Sanford is tackling the issue by keeping more of the fish it lands fresh, not frozen.
"We can deliver fresh fish to countries like the US and predominantly Australia. We're also leaving a lot of fish now in New Zealand. Previously we left about 4 per cent of our total volume here; that number's increased to almost 45 per cent, which is massive.
"Also, from an environmental point of view it's a wonderful story as our footprint is much reduced. But I have to admit some of that fish is then re-exported by customers."
Hoki is Sanford's biggest live-caught species. Most of it used to be turned into blocks of frozen fillets, which are then turned into products such as fish fingers.
Kuntzsch says more customers now want fillets, which requires a better quality fish than a block.
Thanks to New Zealand's "gamechanger" improved fishing and harvesting methods, a fish can now be brought on deck "very much alive and full of energy". Less stress on the fish improves its quality.
"That kind of quality can now easily be transformed into an individual fillet instead of a fillet block, and with that we gain higher prices in the market."
Sanford also trying to work with "much more sophisticated customers", leaving out wholesale traders in the supply chain.
"There's a stigma to frozen fish which we need to overcome in due course. Not all our fish can be landed fresh because it's caught on the high seas. A maximum of possibly 12 per cent of our fish can landed and kept fresh."
It's little wonder the fishing industry isn't well understood. It's complex, diverse and according to Seafood NZ's Pankhurst, probably New Zealand's most regulated.
Talley says that's because fisheries resources are complex.
"You're dealing with sophisticated resources. These are living, dynamic biological masses which change daily. We operate in a public environment and the ocean is something we learn more about every day.
"The regulatory and legislative environment is very complex. The very core of that is the QMS and the Fisheries Act, which are both a wonderful piece of legislation and a wonderful concept."
Talley says the QMS is the "bedrock" that ensures fisheries are sustainable.
"It's the QMS that provides for the science, the research and the funding to ensure that's the case, and it's the QMS that then provides the commercial framework and certainty for investment in vessels, plants, markets and people. It remains world-leading."
That's not to say the system's perfect.
Sanford's Kuntzsch says the QMS needs to be more agile.
"Rising water temperatures, increasing algal blooms, changing salinity and rising sea levels definitely have an impact on fish stocks. We would not want to be in a position where we have quotas for fish that are not in our fisheries management area, and fish in our management area we have no quota for.
"We need the kind of agility where we can quickly come to conclusions with the regulator and ideally with other stakeholders.
"The principles of the QMS are fine but the decision-making process is tedious."
He offers last year's example of how the industry acted before the Beehive over the hoki quota on the West Coast, when warming waters sent hoki swimming to cooler spots.
Fishing companies could see from catches that the fish had moved, despite scientific modelling saying differently. In response, over two years they decided to voluntarily forgo a total of 35,000 tonnes of the quota.
The Fisheries Minister then started to convert that into a real 35,000 tonne cut in the total allowable catch, says Kuntzsch.
The industry paid the Government $34.4m in levies in the latest financial year. The previous year it paid $28.5m - $12.9m of which was for research and stock assessment.
The country's largest supermarket operator - New Zealand-owned Foodstuffs - is also a fan of the QMS.
In July, the North Island operator of the New World and Pak 'n Save brands bought exporter Leigh Fisheries, based north of Auckland.
Foodstuffs has been a quota owner for 20 years, says chief executive Chris Quin. In the past decade it has seen fish sales grow by 80 per cent.
The purchase of Leigh brought with it a "significant" amount of quota and ensured sustainable access to seafood for customers.
Quin believes the QMS is working and New Zealand is lucky to have it.
"The other thing we like about having quota is it enables us to partner with small fishing business people. Little family fishing businesses work with us under our quota."
While small operators might be grumbling about the cost - in time and dollars - of meeting new electronic monitoring regulations, Talley says it will produce an enormous amount of valuable data to help with fisheries management.
By the end of this year every boat will have to report its catch and location in real time to Fisheries NZ electronically and have GPS monitors on board.
Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash says onboard cameras will be old hat in 10 years and by then there could be cameras in nets.
Talley says don't blame the Government for all this - some of the big customers who buy New Zealand's $2b in fish exports are demanding the compliance.
So how else might this industry look in 10 years?
Talley: "I believe you'll see a wave of new investment in fishing vessels, techniques and gear technology. They'll be more efficient and selective.
"Fisheries resources will be far more data driven, meaning timely, informed and responsive decisions ... about how and when we respond to changes in abundance [of fish]."
New electronic reporting "has the potential to be revolutionary, whether it be in improved catch efficiencies, fast stock assessments or geo-fencing areas of significance like juvenile grounds or special habitat.
"The use of data and technology is a game changer for fisheries and marine management in New Zealand.
"There's no reason data and tech can't do for the fishing industry what Uber did for personal transport."