The Ministry for Primary Industries is beginning to reveal the extent of the ex-gratia payments to be made to fishers and licensed fish receivers affected by the decisions around the Hector’s and Maui Dolphin Threat Management Plan.

Ex-gratia of course means ‘by favour’. In other words, the government claim they have no legal obligation to pay people whose livelihoods are impacted but they will make one-off payments to some of those affected.

Earlier this week MPI rang those who would be receiving a payment and left those who were not anxiously staring at their phones until an email landed in their inbox confirming their worst fears. Their fishing grounds had been taken away and, just like that, so had everything they had worked for.

The industry has many questions around the science MPI used to support the decisions and some more immediate questions around the fairness and methodology that brought the government to this model of recompense.

Last week in this forum we brought up the issue of Treaty rights and how iwi have been left out in the cold because they have no compensation for the quota they received as part of the Maori Fisheries Settlement. They now hold quota, in some cases, for a fishery that will no longer exist. The government needs to look long and hard at how this will play out – both from a trust perspective and a Constitutional perspective. This is a matter that is of utmost importance and to be ignored at the government’s peril.

Something that also needs an urgent response from the government is why, when the Minister himself said that the impact of this decision on the industry would be between $30 and $70 million the ex gratia payments seem to have little relativity to the financial hit the fishers are taking.

From our calculations, the pay outs will total less than $5 million, put many out of work and cause deep financial stress for many others. 

The assistance is to support transitioning to an alternative method of fishing.

Longlining has been suggested but that is not as easy as it may seem on the surface.

You can’t longline for butterfish, an herbivorous fish, and you can’t longline profitably for lower-value fish. The costs of longlining are roughly four times the cost of set netting to catch the same fish. The ex-gratia payment does not address that.

Questions should also be asked about expectations of a fisher who fished for 30 years with a set net to acquire the resources, skills and experience to start fishing with longlines.

Many fishers who will have to tie up vessels, lay off crew and give up set netting are to receive no assistance other than business advice to the value of $5,000.

Some ex gratia payments are less than $10,000 and that won’t enable the fisher to transition to another form of fishing or exit fishing.

And, as previously mentioned, one of the biggest questions is why quota holders are to be left holding quota with no value.

Compare the situation with land and livelihoods taken away by the Public Works Act, where property owners and affected parties receive fair market value and solatium for their loss. That’s a long way from an ex-gratia payment of less than $10,000.

A handful will receive more than that, but many will receive nothing.

Engagement with industry over the issues raised here and how they should reflect the level of payments to our people would have been welcomed.

Hopefully, it is not too late to address the situation.