Government launches inquiry into seafood sector as it struggles to attract Kiwi workers

The Government is launching an inquiry into the seafood sector's use of migrant labour, with the minister in charge keen to find out why the industry is failing to attract Kiwi workers.

Port Nelson is New Zealand's largest fishing port, home to dozens of deep-sea trawlers. It's not uncommon in New Zealand to see foreign vessels with foreign workers, run by Kiwi companies.

But Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker wants to know why - and wants it to change.

"Some boats, you really need to speak Russian and understand the Cyrillic alphabet in order to do the work," he said.

And it's tough work - jobs the industry has relied on foreign workers to carry out for years. Before COVID-19, workers largely from eastern Europe made up 20 percent of the workforce.

In a move to please officials last year, many Kiwi companies promised to reel in more local workers.

"Well, it hasn't succeeded as the industry would have hoped," Parker continued. "They have made some efforts.

Parker says some companies are making more of an effort than others, adding it's hard for the industry to transition from where it's found itself.

He believes New Zealanders aren't afraid of hard work.

The industry won't go that far - but suggests Kiwis do find it tough. 

"People are away from their friends and family for long periods, people get seasick. So despite the excellent pay and at sea conditions, some Kiwis aren't just cut out for it," Seafood NZ CEO Jeremy Helsen told Newshub.

Helsen rejects any suggestion foreign workers are hired because it's cheap - and easier. He said Seafood NZ is actively trying to hire locals for available positions.

"We've put some recruitment campaigns out in the public arena, we're helping fund people through industry training."

The minister said it won't be an easy task, but the industry has to be attractive for Kiwi workers. The inquiry will report back to him by the end of October.