Iwi blamed for state of fishery

MAORI ARE losing their multimillion-dollar fishing industry to companies using Asian charter fishing boats.

But tribal leadership is largely silent on how deep-sea fishing, once touted as an economic saviour for Maori, now depends on Asian and Ukrainian foreign charter vessels, many of which are little more than high sea sweatshops.

One leading operator had admitted Maori fishing would close down without the boats, which iwi sell quota to, with the operators shipping the catch to China for processing.

About 2500 men from Third World countries work ageing boats, and many are beaten and forced to work for days without rest to earn as little as $260 a month, according to government documents previously reported in the Sunday Star-Times.

Ngapuhi has a 50/50 joint-venture company, Northland Deepwater JV Ltd, with DSM Ltd, an Auckland firm with no Maori connections. Papers obtained under the Official Information Act show it has lobbied to keep using the ageing vessels.

Hawke Bay's Ngati Kahungunu opted out of fishing its own quota, in favour of a deal with Northland Deepwater, but declined comment. Official Aramanu Ropiha said: "There are protocols of courtesy should media wish to engage with Ngati Kahungunu. Should this iwi opt to make a statement, a written press release will be issued."

No statement was received.

The United Nations has slammed the use of foreign vessels, saying "this kind of thing must be stopped". The iwi has taken accusations of human rights abuses against it to the UN, and last year an official attended a Ngati Kahungunu board meeting, but sweatshop labour at sea was not discussed.

Northland Deepwater chief executive Peter Dawson did not return calls but OIA papers include a four-page submission by him resisting bids to improve conditions on foreign vessels.

"We have been in this business for 23 years and have watched them evolve from being the only source of catching our deepwater species to a `necessary evil' that some companies would like to banish from our shores, and yet they acknowledge they cannot afford to catch with domestic vessels," Dawson wrote.

He argued companies using the boats were making little profit and any additional costs could close them. "This has major consequences for Maori ... if forced out of using the cheap foreign boats, Maori would end up being `passive lessors' of their catch."

Labour MP Shane Jones helped negotiate the original treaty deal. He told Waatea Radio, iwi were not doing enough to ensure fair working conditions on foreign boats.

"I don't think anyone, when we conceived and executed the Sealord settlement, ever imagined Maori quota would be swooped upon and used by unscrupulous agents as a basis for enriching themselves by treating Ukranians and Asians as a form of slave labour."

He warned that unless iwi quota owners could improve the situation, the days of selling quota on "for a quick buck" could be coming to an end.

Tainui's Raukura Moana Fisheries uses ageing Ukrainian boats while Ngai Tahu no longer engages directly in deepwater fishing. Ngati Porou Seafoods in Gisborne has no boats and uses foreign vessels, including, at one stage, the ill-fated Korean Oyang 70, which sank with the loss of six lives last August.

Some iwi using the boats could be doing so unwittingly, since quota arrangements can go through various brokers.

Under treaty settlements Maori now control 37% of the fishing quota. Maori formed the pan-tribal Aotearoa Fisheries Limited, made up of a 50% shareholding in Sealord Fisheries, plus ownership of four other companies. Maori own half of Sealord, the rest held by Nissui, a major shareholder in Japan's Antarctic whaling fleet.

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said it "would not be appropriate for the government to interfere in iwi decision-making".

Sunday Star Times