The Māori fishing industry is calling on the Government for increased financial support, even as the partly iwi-owned Sealord made a $32 million profit last year.
The industry wants a new vessel to replace the charter ships crewed by foreign workers, with plans for it to be crewed with more Kiwis.
Nga Tapuwae o Māui’s Maru Samuels said lobster saw an “immediate 30 to 40 per cent hit” while paua “is down by at least 50 per cent”.
“We’re storing a lot more fish in freezers because we can’t move it,” he said.
While Sealord proposed to split the cost of an $85 million vessel with their Japanese partners, the downturn has meant tribal owners will struggle with their half of the bill.
Samuels said after “crunching the numbers,” the industry has worked out it will need “somewhere between $15-20 million from government support”.
The new boat has become an increasingly pressing issue after Covid-19 exposed the vulnerability of relying on foreign fishing vessels and crews.
The Government has since been forced to allow border exemptions for nearly 600 fishermen to fill the gaps.
Sealord CEO Doug Paulin said they are planning to go fishing in mid-November, relieving concerns they would be unable to fish until “maybe the middle of next year”.
The seafood wholesaler will continue to face challenges, however, with Paulin adding that "at any point in time, I've got between 30 and 40 vacancies for sea-going crew".
“We're always trying to fill them from New Zealanders and we can't.”
With the Māori unemployment expected to rise, the sector wants to be part of the solution.
Samuels said the potential new ship would create around "200-plus new jobs, good jobs, solid jobs" for Māori.