Fishing 'slave labour' slated

Nelson fishermen say seafood companies that use "slave labour" on deep sea foreign charter vessels to make a profit should leave the fish in the sea.

Tony Hazlett, Nelson chief executive of Talley's Group deep sea division, said it was "abhorrent" that a sector of the fishing industry supported the continued employment of "slave labour".

He was reacting to a submission by the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) this week to a ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign charter vessels, in which it said more cheap labour and foreign flagged vessels were needed to harvest New Zealand fish.

The vessels, known as FCVs, are flagged in mainly Asian states and work in New Zealand's deepsea fishery with about 2000 low-wage crews from Third World countries.

The inquiry will hear submissions in Nelson next Thursday.

Mr Hazlett believes SeaFIC was promoting the view of majority shareholders and that minority players had not been canvassed.

FCVs should not be working in New Zealand waters, he said.

"There are ways to save money other than labour costs. If a company's only rationale to make money is to pay slave rates of 50 cents an hour they should leave the fish swimming."

Mr Hazlett rubbished SeaFIC's statements in its submission that New Zealand-flagged fishing boats could not get local crews, despite high unemployment.

SeaFIC said New Zealanders did not like being at sea for weeks at a time, working in uncomfortable conditions and living in an isolated and enforced alcohol and drug-free environment.

Mr Hazlett said Talley's Nelson fielded up to 100 applications a week from New Zealanders wanting to get into the fishing industry, and that was without advertising.

In his submission to the inquiry, Talley's deep sea operations manager Captain Andy Smith said reports of the conditions on FCVs were not fiction.

"They are true accounts of modern-day people trafficking, slavery, fraud, lies and deception."

The Government should be ashamed of the situation that was now becoming known by the international community. Letting it continue would damage the country's reputation as a world leader in sustainable fishing and its clean green image, he said.

Mr Smith's submission contained an email from the Talley's vessel Amaltal Atlantis that rescued 41 survivors of the FCV Oyang 70, which sank last August with the loss of six lives.

Amaltal Atlantis crew were told by survivors they worked 14 to 18 hours on and had around four hours off, were paid $300 a trip, got one set of clothes per trip and only ate the fish they caught.

The vessel sank when the skipper continued hauling in a huge bag of fish despite the crew's pleas to stop, said the email.

Commercial Fishermen's Federation president Doug Saunders-Loder said SeaFIC's submission tarred the whole industry with the same brush.

There was no suggestion that inshore fishermen want to see the use of low-wage labour, he said.

He was regularly approached by young people wanting to enter the industry.

Amaltal Atlantis factory hand Hayley Hedges, of Motueka, said entering the fishing industry had opened the door to massive opportunities for her. "My family have never been so proud of me."

The Nelson Mail