In this beautiful weather, a great number of people would rather be out fishing than back at work.

Fishing is a very important part of our history and culture - Maori of course placed great importance on catching fish before Europeans arrived and boasted a comparatively advanced system of fish hooks made from whale bones.

Early images of the Waitemata Habour show snapper being dried for preservation and fish was traded with early settlers in exchange for blankets, animals and guns.

The recreational fishing lobby group Legasea says that over 1 million Kiwis fish recreationally and at least 1 million additional people benefit from that catch.


The commercial fishing industry, a half of which is owned by Iwi groups through Treaty of Waitangi Settlements, is stated to be worth $4 billion.

There can be no doubt as to how important fishing is to our culture, but when I read Michael Field's investigative book The Catch over summer, aside from being deeply disturbed by the revelations, I felt that the way fishing was being carried out is against another important part of the Kiwi culture: human rights.

The books describes horrific conditions endured by crew on foreign charter vessels - boats from overseas who lease quota from our fishing companies and catch fish in New Zealand waters.

Environmental and human rights standards of these vessels are clearly illegal under New Zealand legislation, but maritime law has a loophole which allows skippers and boat owners to exploit the lax conditions of other countries while sending the boats down under.

These situations are occurring constantly at the moment, but we often do not hear about it because on-board observers (the only way we currently monitor many of the illegal fishing practices) are not made welcome on these boats and none of them actually want to endure the terrible conditions, meaning that most of the issues go unreported.

The fact is, if the crews were to be paid minimum wage that are fishing many of these stocks, they would not be economic. While Peter Talley from food giant Talleys (who don't lease out any of their significant quota to foreign charter vessels) thinks that if fisheries are not economic, they should be left alone, when legislation arrived in parliament to force these "slave ships" it was blocked by Iwi who claimed that they would lose $300 million dollars per year if they couldn't continue.

It is hard to blame Maori for doing this - the finance-focussed culture forced upon fisheries are meaning traditional models are having to try and adapt to this in order to grow economically.

Thankfully, the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Bill, which passed with full support of all parties, will require all foreign charter vessels to carry the New Zealand flag from 1 May 2016, and operate under full New Zealand legal jurisdiction.


This will:

- Enable the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to consider employment, pollution/waste discharge issues, vessel safety matters as well as fisheries matters, when assessing applications for registration of foreign-owned fishing vessels.
- Allow MPI Fishery Observers to collect information on employment pollution/waste discharge, and vessel safety matters, as well as the scientific information they collect now.
- Confer new powers to suspend the registration of non-compliant foreign-owned fishing vessels.

Time will tell whether observers are willing to endure the conditions on board these vessels once the new legislation comes into effect.

Legasea also tells us that "on average over 80 per cent of New Zealand's original fish stock has gone due to commercial fishing".

I used to be a commercial fisherman of sorts - a freediver harvesting kina. This is very much a selective method and something I didn't feel too bad about doing considering that so many snapper (who prey on kina) have been plundered and there is an imbalance in the ecosystem that I was somewhat assisting to correct.

So I understand what it is like to rely on fishing for a livelihood, but I can tell you that the romantic idea of fishermen braving the high seas to bring home the bounty is very much gone. Commercial fishing boats these days are factories. Crew are units on a spreadsheet and on foreign charter vessels families are not even compensated when they die at sea.

But whilst I love eating fish, I have decided to stop eating anything that is commercially caught. I will continue to selectively hunt species that are not threatened, using a speargun. This is a small pledge I will make to help.

For those of you who want to eat fish more sustainably, check out Forest and Bird's fantastic Best Fish Guide here.

Should Maori be compensated for the fish quota that is uneconomic without slavery being employed to catch it?

Should we allow foreign charter vessels into our Exclusive Economic Zone without requiring an observer on board for monitoring?

What else could we do about this?