The debate over the Maui and Hector’s dolphin Threat Management Plan has sparked another discussion – one even more critical to the future of inshore fishing in New Zealand.

The increasing uncertainty, fuelled by multiple compliance demands is seeing young people, already a scarce commodity in the industry, grow wary about joining businesses that their parents and grandparents plied for generations.

This was under discussion recently on a pre-dawn trip on the Kawhia Harbour. Ali Brooks and Leon Lawrence are the last two young, Maori fishers on the Kawhia and succession planning was something weighing heavily on their minds.

Both were keen to have their children take over their businesses, as they themselves had followed their fathers before them, but they were doubtful that would happen. The legislative blows to inshore fishing keep on coming and, even if they survive the TMP, they will be wary about passing their businesses on.

Brooks said the industry had enough issues with succession planning without the TMP.

“We are not attracting more people to the industry and I can understand why. It’s not an easy industry to join and the whole generational aspect is dying off. There are not many fishermen wanting their families to take over and I can’t blame them. There are so many reasons you wouldn’t want to these days.”

Brooks and Lawrence are not alone in fearing the continuing diminishment of the inshore fishing industry.

Year after year the number of people exiting the industry grows. Close to 300 vessels have stopped fishing and deregistered since 2012. You can triple that for the number of jobs.

Brooks believes the government is sending them mixed messages.

“They want to create opportunities and foster development of Maori, but they put barriers in the way of small fishermen. With ever more legislation like the Maui and Hector’s TMP there is nothing encouraging young people wanting to come to this industry.

“If we spent 10 minutes explaining what we do and the challenges we are facing right now there is no one who would want to do what we do. To be honest I wouldn’t want to put my children through the same sort of battles we are going through now. 

“I have some practical solutions, but politicians need to answer the phone. They need to follow up on emails. No one from local or central government has come to talk to us about the hurt or impact. Nobody.”

The conversation is not confined to Kawhia, nor just to Maori. In small communities all around New Zealand, where fishing fuels the economy, the pressures are immense and the future precarious.

Leon Lawrence puts it best: “My forefathers were fishermen. If you were a fisherman, you were a God for bringing kai home to the table and for feeding your people. Now, as fishermen we are treated as criminals.”


Note: December’s SEAFOOD magazine carries a full feature article on the fishermen of Kawhia