Finalist, Seafood Champion Awards for Advocacy

Daren Coulston is a former deep-sea fisherman who began fishing in 1982 working alongside Japanese crew on foreign factory fishing vessels in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone. Later, Daren captained vessels in NZ, the Solomon Islands, Australia, international waters and owned vessels from 6 to 40 meters. He was on the board of the NZ Seafood Industry Training Organization for 14 years and operated businesses including fish export, forestry, milling and construction. After talking with Indonesian crew who were rescued following the sinking of South Korean fishing vessel Oyang 70 in 2010, he changed focus and advocated for the rights of indigent migrant fishing crew. Working with The University of Auckland Business School fisheries team, Daren exposed the horrific maltreatment of migrant fishing crew working on South Korean chartered vessels. He advocated for over 600 Indonesian crew with NZ employment issues and supported actions in the Employment Relations Authority, District Court, Employment Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and for Oyang 70 widows, in the Coroners court. This resulted in about $10 million being paid to crew in back pay by August 2016. He was nominated for New Zealander of the Year in 2015.


Daren Coulston’s advocacy for the rights of vulnerable migrant fishing crew working on Foreign flagged vessels chartered to New Zealand fishing companies, and catching fish for the New Zealand fishing companies within the New Zealand exclusive economic zone, led to a raft of legislative and practice changes that improved the conditions of crew and the standing of the seafood industry.

How well does this nominee and his or her work demonstrate the qualities of the category?  

Daren Coulston joined with academics to expose living and working conditions, and fishing practices on foreign charter fishing vessels, which led to a Ministerial Inquiry and changes to policy and legislation i.e. Fisheries, Immigration and Crimes Acts. Vessels that permanently ceased fishing in NZ waters due largely to Daren’s efforts include: Shin Ji, Oyang 75, Oyang 77, Melilla 201, Sur Este 707, Sur Este 700, Sur Este 709. Crews of 13 vessels received wage settlements thanks to his efforts in the courts. The total value of the wage settlements totaled about NZ$ 10,000,000.

In what ways has this nominee positively affected, or mitigated negative impacts of, the seafood industry?

The major recommendation of the Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Chartered Vessels was implemented 1 May 2016 – all fishing vessels operating in NZ waters must be on the NZ Register of Shipping, meaning that all NZ Laws apply to these vessels and crew. Some vessels did not comply with NZ employment law (crew did not receive holiday pay entitlement) and the employers were made to pay arrears. A byproduct of the increased scrutiny was that, since the sinking of Oyang 70 in 2010, fisheries compliance obtained convictions for ‘quota busting’ against masters and officers of the following vessels; Oyang 75, Oyang 77, Melilla 201, Sur Este 707.  Maritime New Zealand obtained MARPOL convictions against Oyang 75 and Pacinui. All of these convictions were founded on or supported by migrant crew testimony – the window to positive change was the crew viewpoint. These actions reduced criminality in the seafood industry and increased accountability.

In what way do you feel this nominee’s story could inspire others and communicate successes achieved in sustainable seafood?  

Seafood can never be sustainable if it is founded on quota busting, oil pollution and migrant worker exploitation. Low cost business models using old technology and ‘waste’ dumping lead to low value commodities and inefficient resource use.  NZ fish resources are finite and diminishing as evidenced by the percent of total allowable commercial catch that is taken each year: for about 70% of quota species the TACC is not caught each year and has not been caught for about 10 years. For NZ commercial fishing to be sustainable it must move to a zero waste, smart gear, niche marketed, value added leader in social and environmental accountability. A model like this model would suit many countries fisheries. Coulston’s work advocating for migrant fishing crew rights is ongoing both in NZ and internationally. 

How would the work serve as a replicable model for others who want to have a similar impact?  

At the core of the work is a large number of eye witnesses whose testimony informs recommendations. This is specialist work but is replicable in other countries, either directly or with modification.

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