Kiwis at the end of fresh fish queue

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Fresh fish daily . . . North Canterbury Seafood Market owners Shayne Garbes and Janine Rogers outside their shop in Rangiora. Photo: Katherine Williams

By Shelley Topp

Kiwis are being pushed to the back of the queue when trying to buy fresh fish due to the huge demand for our seafood overseas.

It is a problem the owners of Rangiora’s North Canterbury Seafood Market, Janine Rogers and her partner Shayne Garbes are familiar with.

The Rangiora couple established their business their business 71/2 years ago on the corner of High Street and East Belt in Rangiora with a “fresh fish daily” motto and an emphasis on “buying locally”.

Shayne, a fifth-generation fisherman and Janine, who has a background in many sectors including education, finance, community, government and now primary industry, have a loyal customer base because of the high-quality fish and value-added products they sell.

But they say it is not easy maintaining such a high level of service because of the way the seafood export industry is structured and believe New Zealanders should have the “first pick of the fish at affordable prices and make exporting secondary to the care of our people and fish stocks”.

September is one of the most difficult months for fish supplies because “the weather can’t make up its mind” and it is the end of this season’s fishing quota.

This means supplies are even more limited because the fishermen have caught their allocated amount of certain species for the year and have to wait on new species quota issued in October.

During this time North Canterbury Seafood Market customers are encouraged to try new fish species and there is a large supply of recipes in store to help with that.

The couple also consistently offer delicious fishcakes, salmon filo, and smoked fish, and hold filleting classes to help maintain its customer base.

They say more than 90 per cent of fish landed commercially in New Zealand is exported annually and last year New Zealand’s fish industry was our eighth biggest exporter, hauling in $1 billion.

While this is good news for fish exporters it is not so good for New Zealanders wanting to buy fresh fish or for fishmongers trying to supply top quality product at affordable prices for their customers.

The Ministry for Primary Industries fisheries adviser, Dr Pamela Mace reported to the Seafood New Zealand conference in Wellington last year that New Zealand’s fish stocks were in good health.

“This was great news,”Janine says.

However, as a consequence “the industry was aiming to double our exports, and trade on the good health of fresh fish with less emphasis on the issues that mass fishing produces”.

“The winners here are the exporters and the countries to whom we export,” she says.

A recent morning at the fish market in Christchurch was a case in point.

A substantial amount of fish was landed into the auction and the majority was taken off the floor and sent to the factory for export processing or for supply to the North Island.

“Once again the local fish buyers are left with very little fish from which to choose from. The result is the price goes up.”

Janine says she was definitely not against exporting but wants better consideration for New Zealand consumers.

In July this year at the Marine Societies of New Zealand and Australia conference, held in Wellington at Victoria University, Seafood New Zealand’s chief executive Tim Pankhurst said New Zealand fisheries were in good heart and had great potential for the future.

“Our stocks are sustainable – it’s not just the fishing industry saying that, the science supports it, and the world wants what we produce – and aquaculture is expanding,” he said.

“The New Zealand Government has set an ambitious target of doubling export returns by 2025. We are well on track to achieving that, with seafood exports reaching a record high of $1.8 billion in the year to April – an 11.4 increase on the previous year,” he said.

His comments came after a damning report released by Auckland University in May this year which said that the total amount of marine fish caught in New Zealand waters between 1950 and 2010 was 2.7 times more than official statistics suggested.

“Unreported commercial catch and discarded fish account for most of the difference,” the report said.

The study was part of a national research project aimed at informing the New Zealand seafood industry how to become as economically and environmentally sustainable as possible. Mr Pankhurst said the report was “flawed”.