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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 24, September 27, 1976.

The price of fish(ing)

page 4

The price of fish(ing)

"If the Russians are allowed to continue fishing in Cook Strait, within three years the ground will be useless for fishing by anyone". So said a senior member of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries earlier this year as large Russian fishing fleet encroached upon traditional New Zealand fishing grounds with alarming effect.

Over recent years foreign fishing fleets have been an increasing problem to New Zealand. The possible results of the on-again-off-again Law of the Sea Conference and the fact that one of the biggest foreign fishers is also one of the two nuclear-mad superpowers has helped to bring this urgent problem to the public eye.

The Foreigners Arrive

Since the early 1960's, large foreign fishing vessels have been coming to New Zealand in ever increasing numbers. First the Japanese, followed in the early 70s by Soviet, South Korean, Taiwanese, and, to a smaller extent US fleets, have been oeprating in and around New Zealand Waters.

As a result, New Zealand, which was the number one fishing power in our region as late as 1970 had dropped to number two by 1971 and has occupied the number three position since 1973. In some areas, such as the Canterbury Bight, foreign competition has meant a decline in fish stocks (through overfishing and use of small mesh nets which take immature fish) and a consequent decline in the number of NZ fishing vessels and fishermen that the area can sustain.

The effect of this competition on traditional New Zealand grounds has also been evident in another sphere - the sharply rising price of fish as New Zealand fishermen are forced to travel further for smaller catches.

The magnitude of the competition is shown by recent flotilla of nine Russian trawlers, a mother ship, and an oiler which, when fishing off the Canterbury Bight, caught an equivalent catch to that of 60 NZ trawlers.

Russian trawler off NZ coast.

Russian trawler off NZ coast.

The Big Two

The USSR and Japan catch well over half the total fish caught in our area. These two imperialist powers having depleted grounds closer to home go further and further each year in their search for new grounds to milk dry. Japan arrived off our shores in the early sixties and had outstripped the New Zealand catch by 1971. The USSR first appeared in 1971 catching a mere 10,400 tons. By 1973 it was catching 74,300 tons a year (9,700 tons more than NZs catch for 1973) and the figure has been rising since.

Worldwide the Soviet Union and Japan are the two largest fishing nations. Both are catching a total of about 10 million tons a year. Forty-two percent of the Japanese catch and about 82% of the Soviet catch is made in the waters of other countries. While the Soviet Union and Japan were the two main culprits in the extermination of 90% of the world's whale population through overfishing, they are still attempting to increase fish catches. This year the USSR announced plans to increase its catch by over 30% in the next five years.

The world's oceans can only sustain a certain number of fish. Russian and Japanese expansion is based on merely increasing the scale of their hunting operations and not through cultivation. The intense greed of these capital-intensive industries is leading us toward a situation of marine deserts in the immanent furture. What has happened to whole populations is now threatening to happen to other marine species.

A possible portent of the future of New Zealand's fishing industry if these foreign fleets are allowed to continue to fish our waters is contained in Peking Review (7/4/76):

"For six months in 1972 and 1973 Soviet trawlers in the Indian Ocean caught fish and prawns in the off shore waters of Pakistan. Using large fishing vessels and long nets, the Soviet Fleet hauled nearly all the fish swimming in shoals before they could come near the coast. As a result, one-third of Pakistan's fishing vessels could not put to sea, over 6,000 fishermen were out of work, and the loss of foreign exchange income exceeded 150 million rupees."

The UN Law of the Sea Conference

In the middle of this critical situation, both in New Zealand and worldwide, there came the proposal at the Law of the Sea Conference for the establishment of 200 mile exclusive economic zones off all coastal countries. The coastal country would have total control over all fishing activity within the zone.

Several countries including the United States have already declared such zones. The response of the Japanese and Russians has been to launch a new offensive in their fishing operations to gain "traditional rights" in areas that will come within the planned 200 mile zones. More subtle pressures to subvert the planned 200-mile zones are being tried as Jim Campbell, the General Manager of the NZ Fishing Industry Board has warned:

Look at the developing nations," he says, "They are pushed into a position by people who are technologically superior, financially equipped, with access to markets, whereby they are giving away their resources because they do have have the means to assess and then develop them.

"We need an interim period specified by the Law of the Sea Conference so that small coastal states are not forced to allow exploitation by others. We need assistance through FAO (the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation) to assist and guide little nations like New Zealand and Fiji to assess our resources." (Evening Post 19/2/76).

The proposals of the Law of the Sea Conference are part of the total move by third world countries for a new economic order. One aspect of this is removing the ability of imperialist powers to exploit without restriction raw materials found in other countries.

The actions of the OPEC countries brought this issue out into the open and it is the crux of the 200mile zone concept, as B.J- Kenton, president of the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, has said:

"Many people infer that the 200-mile zone is going to give us a whole new resource but I believe it is only giving us back" (read 'from the imperialists)" the right to manage, control and exploit the resource that I feel is rightly ours".

Map of New Zealand and surrounding islands

200 Nautical mile circles and approximate extent of continental shelf

The Law of the Sea and New Zealand

With the proposed extension of a fisheries management zone to 200 miles New Zealand would have the fourth largest fishing zone in the world - some 1,409,500 square miles.

However, the possibility of the establishment of such a zone is being treated in a totally cavalier manner by the present government.

The Secretary of Defence Mr John Robertson has pointed out that New Zealand is "woefully unprepared" for the establishment of the zone and called for action now to decide policy. His call has been echoed throughout the New Zealand fishing industry. The government response has been as hard to find as was Parliament in the first six months of this year.

On the two main problems facing a depressed industry: (i) the need for capital investment and (ii) the problem of foreign exploitation of fish stocks, the government has advised the industry to: (1) "Think Big" (Mr Maclntyre, Minister of Agriculture and fisheries 9/6/76) and (2) is busy arranging joint-stock companies with foreign fishing nations, is busy bartering off assessed fish stocks for questionable assurances on markets for agricultural produce, is busy putting off the date of establishing a 200 mile zone, is not so busy in building up a patrol force capable of properly policing a 200-mile zone, and has got its feet up and is snoring while the Question of immediate steps to control and restrict foreign fishing activity before the establishment of a 200 mile zone passes it by.

Action Needed Now

The only spark of action from the government was the announcement in the budget of a tax on foreign fishing vessels which visit New Zealand ports. But the government has made it plain (in answer to questions in Parliament) that this is a purely fiscal measure and is not protective or conservational in character. In fact the big two, the USSR and Japan, are both capable of operating independently of port facilities and will be unaffected by the measure.

The willingness of the government to join the third world countries in their struggle for control of their national resources will be reflected in its attitude to the planned 200 mile zone. At the moment it is avoiding the hard decisions. It is shooting at Taiwanese intruders but taking no action against worse intrusions of our territorial waters by Russian and Japanese vessels. Time is running out.

"Our administrators now as never before will have to justify the wisdom of their decisions, not only to themselves but to the people of New Zealand. A considerable depth of interest and concern in this matter is evident among the public, and woebetide the authors of any decisions that are not patriotic and just." P.J. Stevens, President, Wellington Trawlermens Association, Commercial Fishing, August 1976).