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Seafood sector inquiry launched to get more Kiwis working on fishing boats

Fears of the seafood industry's reliance on migrant labour has prompted a ministerial inquiry.

Fishing boat (file picture). Source: istock.com

About 20 per cent of the sector was made up of migrant workers in the year to March 2019, and Fisheries minister David Parker said the sector had vulnerabilities due to the migrant labour reliance, highlighted by Covid-19 border closures.

When asked what was putting off New Zealanders from working on fishing vessels, he said in some cases that was because all of the instructions were in Russian.

"Some boats you really need to speak Russian and understand the Cyrillic alphabet to do the work, so you are never going to get New Zealanders into that part of the work force if that's the status quo."

On the other hand, Parker said it was "very hard for the industry to transition".

"Some of it relies in training, some of it lies in bringing technology forward."

Parker said New Zealanders were "very hard workers" and "we are not lazy people".

"The inquiry will do a stocktake of the current state of the seafood sector’s workforce and determine what a more resilient seafood workforce, with a greater proportion of New Zealanders, could look like, and how this might be achieved."

Seafood New Zealand's chief executive, Jeremy Helson welcomed the inquiry.

"We've been working with the government for about a year now to try and reduce our reliance on foreign labour so if there is anything this inquiry can do to help that we would definitely support it," he told 1NEWS.

"We've used foreign labour in the fishing industry for a little while now, primary at sea roles and some processing roles."

In light of Covid-19 border restrictions, he said it was "far easier" to employ New Zealanders.

The issue of foreign crew on fishing boats hit the headlines after Sealord, Independent Fisheries and Maruha Nichiro gained exemptions for hundreds of workers from Russia and Ukraine.

David Parker, file. Source: 1 NEWS

A number of them tested positive for Covid-19 while in isolation facilities.