Ngapuhi fishing with Asian charters 'not slavery'

A business leader employed by New Zealand's largest iwi, Northland's 122,000-strong Ngapuhi, has launched a passionate defence of the way his firm uses low-cost Asian charter boats to catch its deep-water fishing quota.

Sir John Goulter, chairman of Ngapuhi Asset Holding Company, said that without the boats, the iwi and its main population centre, Kaikohe, would have no income.

"Kaikohe is not one of your most successful towns, it is suffering," he told a three-person ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign boats and crews in Auckland yesterday.

He denounced claims that fishing and processing using foreign crews amounted to slavery and suggested the allegations came from two of New Zealand's richer fishing provinces, Nelson and Tasman.

"Ngapuhi is not aware of any of its products being involved in slave labour," said Sir John, who was appearing before the inquiry panel – previous Labour government labour minister Paul Swain, KPMG accountant Sarah McGrath and Broadcasting Commission chairman Neil Walter.

Deepwater catch owned by Ngapuhi and the East Coast iwi Ngati Kahungunu is caught by a Korean ship, Gom 379, chartered by Northern Deepwater GP Ltd. Sir John said they worked closely with the ship because their income was completely dependent on it.

Ngapuhi's quota had a book value of $20 million, but they could not sell it and they could not use it to buy their own boat. "In essence that is of no commercial value to us. I defy anybody to show us how to make a return on it."

Northern Deepwater director Phil Smith said the deal had put $6.8m into iwi over the last two years. No crew was available for boats in New Zealand; if New Zealanders qualified in ships, they were quickly picked up by Australian boats at a much greater salary, he said.

In its evidence to the inquiry, Sealord Group – jointly owned by Maori and a Japanese company – defended the use of foreign boats.

"There has never been a time when we didn't have foreign vessels in our waters," chief executive Graham Stuart said. If foreign boats were forced out, most of the deepwater quota value would be destroyed and the best of it would be "cherry-picked", he said.

- Fairfax NZ