Central Otago's horticulture and viticulture sectors are questioning why fishermen from countries rife with Covid-19 have been let into New Zealand when their workforce comes from countries untouched by the pandemic.
Russian and Ukrainian fishing crew members flew into Christchurch from Moscow last week to prop up New Zealand's beleaguered deep-sea fishing industry.
Eleven of the 237 men tested positive for Covid-19 in managed isolation at Christchurch's Sudima Hotel on Tuesday, and seven more fishermen tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday.
In total, there were 25 new cases in New Zealand yesterday.
There were 23 cases at the border and two were related to the port worker reported on Sunday.
For horticulturists and viticulturists who have been lobbying the Government to allow their registered seasonal employer (RSE) scheme workforce back into the country, the news was frustrating.
The workers are sourced from across the Pacific — from countries that are Covid-free.
Grape Vision owner and Central Otago Winegrowers Association past-president James Dicey questioned how the decision to allow the fisherman into the country got "across the line".
"The Government has drawn a line under the RSE workers in that they are non-essential but the horticulture and viticulture industry has a desperate labour shortage as well.
"We have millions of dollars worth of crop on the line."
Summerfruit New Zealand chairman Tim Jones said the news fishermen had tested positive had left him with a "sick feeling".
"It makes me really nervous that the Government will delay the decision to allow RSE workers to return to New Zealand."
Ettrick Fruitgrowers Association chairman Pete Vernon said he commended the Government decision to allow the fishermen into New Zealand but the horticulture industry was in the "same boat".
"They saw the need and allowed workers in to help the fishing industry but the hort industry wants that, too."
The irony of allowing the Russians and Ukrainians in when it was deemed "too risky"by Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi several weeks ago to allow RSE workers to return was not lost on him, Vernon said.
Russia has recorded more than 1.4million cases of Covid-19, while in Ukraine, case numbers have passed 300,000.
Last month, the Government announced border exceptions for foreign workers, including 30 veterinarians, 570 deep-sea fishing crew, and 210 agricultural and horticultural mobile plant operators.
Shortages of deep-sea fishing workers could not be filled by New Zealanders in the short term, Faafoi said at the time.
"In exchange for the border exception, the fishing industry has committed to removing barriers to employing New Zealanders, including reviewing pay structures and business models, and investing significantly in training and education."
Yesterday, a spokesman for Faafoi said there were no plans to change the border exception scheme.
Sealord chief executive Doug Paulin said earlier the fishing vessels had 100% foreign crew and it had been that way for 25 years.
There were still 30 to 40 vacancies on the vessels of New Zealand crew "despite advertising up and down New Zealand".
He said young New Zealanders were not inclined to do "more labour-intensive roles", and a life at sea was "not for everyone".
Maritime Union Port Chalmers president Josh Greer said he found it hard to believe
foreign workers were needed when Timaru seafood company Sanford was using workers
from this country.
"It's just a rort, isn't it?
"They're using foreign labour because it's cheaper. We've got the skills here and we've got the people on the right tickets."
Sanford chief operating officer Clement Chia said the company was "very sympathetic to the need to bring in foreign workers who have the skills and expertise needed to work at sea", even though Sanford employed New Zealanders.
Sanford had 450 sharefishers in its deep-water vessels and worked hard to find and train the right people.
Fishing was wonderful work "for those who like the lifestyle," but it could be challenging "to find the right people".