New book tells graphic story of abuse and modern slavery on boats fishing for New Zealand quota
The Catch, a book to be released in August by Awa Press, presents a powerful indictment of conditions endured by crew on foreign
charter vessels fishing in New Zealand waters – and examines the destructive practices threatening many of the world’s
The author, Michael Field, a senior journalist for The Sunday Star-Times and a Radio New Zealand Pacific affairs correspondent, first became interested in the fishing industry in 2008 when a
Taiwanese boat, Tai Ching 21, was found near Kiribati with no one on board and lifeboat and life-rafts missing. None of its 29 men – Chinese,
Indonesian and Filipino crew and Taiwanese officers – has ever been found.
Field’s search for the men’s identities led him into a dark world of foreign-flagged vessels fishing as far south as
ice-bound Antarctica. In The Catch he reveals what he discovered: horrifying examples of modern slavery in which men from poor countries are trapped on
filthy, unsafe ships, treated brutally by captains and officers, and receive little or no pay; and fishing practices
that are wasteful, environmentally damaging, and often illegal.
Since the introduction of the quota management system in 1986, some of New Zealand’s largest fishing companies have
increasingly used foreign charter vessels to fish for their quota. Field claims irresponsible fishing practices of such
vessels are not only endangering crews but stripping the world’s seas and threatening the food supply of people
everywhere, propelling us towards one of the environmental tragedies of our times.
Field’s revelations have been backed by independent studies from researchers at the University of Auckland Business
School, and by foreign journalists and organisations. The publicity has led to a 2013 ministerial inquiry and a bill,
currently before Parliament, that would require fishing vessels to be flagged to New Zealand. But, Field asks, is this
enough to stop the horror?