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New Zealand’s seafood sector must adopt sustainable practices: Minister

By Ankush Chibber , 18-May-2012

New Zealand’s top minister for the food sector has called for more environmentally sustainable harvesting practices if New Zealand is to continue producing high-quality seafood products.

David Carter, Minister for Primary Industries (MPI), was addressing a delegation at the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen Conference where he said that the sector’s focus must remain on maximising on New Zealand’s reputation for producing high-quality products, backed by integrity.

“Part of that is ensuring that our harvesting practices are environmentally sustainable,” he said adding that recent media publicity on the environmental impacts of fishing in the country heightened the risks to the fishing industry's reputation overseas.

Carter said domestica and international customers “will increasingly demand evidence that our fishing practices are sustainable, and that we are actively addressing fishing’s impacts on the environment and protected marine species”.

New Zealand is primarily an export-oriented market when it comes to seafood products. In 2011, the country exported 312,846 tonnes of seafood worth NIZ$1.52bn, according to data from Seafood New Zealand. The domestic market however accounts for only about 10% of total seafood sales.

“We must respond to consumer concern to protect our reputation, and the market access that we depend on; without a solid reputation, our market access dissolves.”

Local issues having a global effect

Alastair Macfarlane, general manager for trade and information at the NZ Seafood Industry Council, told FoodNavigator-Asia that the minister’s remarks should not be taken as a criticism and that they had a domestic focus.

Outlining the sustainable practices in the country’s seafood sector, Macfarlane said that commercial fisheries in New Zealand are managed under one of the most rigorous management systems in the world.

“There are strict quota catch limits set on the more than 600 individual stocks of fish that make up the New Zealand commercial fishery. Commercial fishers must observe those limits. The penalties for failing to do so are very severe,” he said.

Macfarlane pointed out that the minister’s comments were in the context of two current issues of local significance to the fishing industry, the first being the public concern that certain methods of fishing practiced in some areas of the coastal fishery may be having an impact on two species of small dolphins.

“The second issue is related to a discussion the MPI having with the sector on the nature and extent of monitoring of fishing activity on board fishing vessels, either by official observers or by electronic or similar means,” he said.

According to data from Seafood New Zealand, around 650,000 tonnes of seafood are harvested from New Zealand's coastal waters and Exclusive Economic Zone each year. Of this, 63% is mid and deep-water fish, 12% is pelagics (tunas and mackerels), 10% is inshore species and 15% is from aquaculture.

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