Line workers on a foreign charter fishing vessel, New Zealand
Crew members on a foreign-chartered vessel (FCV) head and gut fish, before freezing them on board the ship. (Photo released by the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries under the Official Information Act.)

The New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries launched an inquiry into the use of FCVs in New Zealand’s waters. Its findings will be released on February 24.

Foreign-Chartered Vessels:
  The Controversy

Seafood Industry Council's EEZ map
    EEZ map, New Zealand
    Seafood Industry Council  

NEW Banning of Foreign Chartered Vessels

New Zealanders are not the only people catching fish in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends between 12 and 200 nautical miles from the coast. Although most of the boats fishing in the EEZ are New Zealand-owned, 26 boats catching deepwater species bear other countries’ flags. 

These boats are called foreign-chartered vessels (FCV), and are foreign-owned but leased by New Zealand companies in order to fish in the EEZ. The vessels catch deepwater species at least 12 miles from New Zealand coast, beyond the country’s territorial sea. Key FCV catch species include: hoki, ling, hake, barracuda, squid, jack mackerel, southern blue whiting, white warehouse, and silver warehou. FCVs bring in more than 90 percent of New Zealand’s squid and jack mackerel. That catch is later labeled as a "Product of New Zealand," according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Recent Controversies Over the Use
of Foreign-Chartered Vessels in
New Zealand Waters

Of the 26 vessels, half are flagged to South Korea, seven to Japan, four to the Ukraine, and two to Dominica. The investigation by Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism's Senior Fellow E. Benjamin Skinner and Bloomberg Businessweek focused on several Korean vessels, where crew members reported unpaid wages, violence, and threats, among other abuses.

In the past two years, the use of FCVs has been called into question by some commercial fishing companies, human rights activists, and academics. Concerns range from removing fishing industry jobs from the New Zealand economy to worker exploitation of the foreign crews. In contrast, supporters of FCVs have declared them not only useful but also necessary for the New Zealand fishing industry to remain profitable.

Much of the controversy began in August 2010, when the Oyang 70, an FCV owned and staffed by the Korean Sajo Oyang Corporation and operated by Southern Storm Fishing Limited, sank in New Zealand’s waters. In June 2011, 32 Indonesian crew members fled the Oyang 75 (owned and operated by the same companies), citing physical, mental, and psychological abuse, as well as non-payment of wages, according to a report from the University of Auckland Business School.

New Zealand Ministerial Inquiry

Banning of Foreign Chartered Vessels 

On May 21, the New Zealand Industries and Labour ministers announced that foreign-flagged vessels will no longer be able to fish in New Zealand’s waters. Following the strongest recommendations of the ministerial report, the new rule places all vessels under the jurisdiction of New Zealand employment, health, and safety law. The rule effectively prohibits the arrangements between New Zealand fishing companies and foreign-chartered vessels discussed in “The Cruelest Catch” and other reports. 


"Foreign Charter Vessels to be reflagged as NZ boats,” Checkpoint, May 22, 2012, Radio New Zealand 

“Ban on foreign fishing vessels not enough–Labor,” May 22, 2012, TVNZ 

“Crackdown on foreign fishing boats,” Paul Harper, May 22, 2012, NZ Herald 

“Foreign fishing vessels to obey New Zealand law,” Tova O’Brien, May 22, 2012, 3 News 

“Government action on foreign charter vessels welcomed,” Council of Trade Unions, May 22, 2012,  

“Foreign flagged fishing boats to be banned,” Tracy Watkins, Danya Levy and Michael Field, May 22, 2012, Stuff 

In August 2011, the Ministry of Labour along with the Ministry of Fisheries (now part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry) launched an inquiry into the use of FCVs. The inquiry asked if using FCVs protects New Zealand’s international reputation and trade access, maximizes economic return to New Zealand, and ensures that acceptable labor standards are applied on all fishing boats in the EEZ, regardless of the vessel’s flag. The inquiry’s report was released on March 1, 2012.  

Selected Submissions to the Ministerial Inquiry on the Use of Foreign-Chartered Vessels

As part of the inquiry, the Ministries invited the public to submit written testimony or appear at hearings held across the country in October 2011. The Schuster Institute has selected those submissions that may be of interest to our readers. All of the written testimony may be found on the Ministry of Fisheries website. 

Aotearoa Fisheries Limited

Arendale Limited

Dawson & Associates

Department of Labour

Human Rights Commission

Indonesia Human Rights Committee

Maritime New Zealand Union

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry

National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia

New Zealand Fishing Industry Guild

New Zealand Seafood Industry Council

Northland Deepwater Limited

Sanford Limited

Seafood Industry Council


Southern Storm Fishing Limited

Sullivan & Spillane


Last page update: May 22, 2012