WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand is to ban the use of foreign-flagged fishing boats in its waters to improve working conditions for crews and monitoring of catches, the government said on Tuesday.
New Zealand has the fifth-largest exclusive economic zone in the world, extending from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore, and the fishing industry relies heavily on foreign vessels. The zone produced NZ$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion) in exports last year.
The vessels, often low-cost ship operators based in Asia, are chartered by New Zealand fishing companies, but operate under the laws of their home countries or countries they are registered in.
An inquiry into conditions on the chartered vessels found examples of physical abuse of the crews, dangerous working conditions, underpayment of wages and illegal deductions.
"Reflagging will provide greater protection to the crew as they will be employed by a New Zealand-based party under a New Zealand employment agreement," Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said in a statement.
Local fishing companies will have four years to change.
Last year, officers of the Korean-registered Oyang 75 were charged with breaking fishing rules, and most of the ship's largely Indonesian crew walked off the vessel because of the conditions onboard.
In 2010, another Korean vessel, Oyang 70, sank off New Zealand with the loss of six crew. An inquiry was told the ship's captain rejected warnings it was using too large a net.
Last week, the master and an officer on another Korean-chartered vessel were charged with the illegal dumping of fish caught in New Zealand's economic zone.
The country's biggest listed fishing company, Sanford Ltd, which charters four Korean ships, said the new rules had been prompted by the irresponsible actions of a few.
(Reporting by Gyles Beckford; Editing by Nick Macfie)