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Garth George & the limits to growth

Written By: - Date published: 2:12 pm, October 17th, 2010 - 62 comments
Categories: farming, Mining, overseas investment - Tags: , , ,

In his last column Garth George laments how foods he regularly enjoyed in his childhood (1870s?) are now priced beyond the reach of most New Zealanders. It’s easy to dismiss the complaints of an old man about prices these days but there’s a deeper story: with population growth and resource depletion, there increasingly isn’t enough to go around.

Here’s the interesting pars from George’s article:

Though they have been part of my life since I was old enough to eat them, Bluff oysters ($28 a dozen, or $2.33 each, at Foodtown this week) have been off my menu for years. So I remember with pleasure and longing those days when a shilling (10c) would buy a feed of oysters and chips sufficient to satisfy the lunch needs of a voracious teenage boy.

According to a story in the Herald on Sunday last weekend, latest statistics show that, on average, fish and seafood have increased in price by 18.6 per cent in the past four years.

So it’s not surprising to read that domestic consumption has dropped from 34,337 tonnes in 2005 to 28,539 tonnes last year…

… it got me to thinking about the richly fertile land of plenty we live in – and how we pay through the nose these days for much of the produce thereof.

Take fish. The seas around this island nation teem with fish of all varieties, yet when I go to the supermarket I cannot afford to buy any of the most popular species and must content myself with the cheaper, which go best in a fish pie.

At more than $40 a kilogram snapper is way out of my budget, as is tarakihi and gurnard at between $30 and $40, so I’m left with hoki at $16. My favourite, blue cod from the South Island, is rarely available and generally costs as much, if not more, than the inferior snapper.

What’s happened? Why were bluff oysters, blue cod, and snapper plentiful in George’s day but not today?

Because when young Garth was scoffing bluff oysters and blue cod we were in the process of running down the biomass of these species. There seemed to be heaps to go around because the resource was being extracted with no regard to the future.

Now, quotas have been set that (hopefully, but probably not actually) see only enough of the species harvested to allow the population to remain at a sustainable level – a level much below what existed before the harvesting started.

So, there’s not a lot that can be produced and, if you and I want to have any of it, we have to outbid huge and increasingly wealthy populations overseas who want to eat our produce too (and, on top of that international competition, Goerge has to bid against 4.4 million other Kiwis, not 2 million like when he was young).

The situation is even worse with non-renewable resources. There’s not enough minerals, oil, and farmland to go around. New Zealand might be well-endowed in these resources but others want them just as badly and have the money to buy them, if we let them be sold.

In an increasingly resource-constrained world, it’s madness for us to give ours to overseas interests – we need to keep these vital foundations of our economy, and the profits, in New Zealand ownership.

62 comments on “Garth George & the limits to growth”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    Two things:
    1.) There needs to be an immediate moratorium on fishing in NZ and it needs to be in place for 10 years at least (preferably 20 due to the longevity of some fish types) – to allow fish stocks to replenish. After that we bring in tight quotas to ensure sustainability.

    2.) We need to force all exports to completed products only. This will encourage actual development of the economy rather than relying solely on farming.

    • M 1.1

      Yes moratorium needs to be enacted immediately as over 90 oper cent of the large fish are gone because we’ve eaten them. Whales are starving because the giant squid that they eat and get fresh water from are fast disappearing.

      There’s an exellent documentary ‘End of the Line’ that lays out the bald facts of overfishing and why there needs to be a moratorium.

      A NZ marine biologist, can’t remember his name as I’ve lent DVD to someone, has said he has given up eating fish as he believes if we don’t for a decent length of time we will eventually fish our way down the food chain to shrimp and then will have to survive on plankton patties if I recall the phrase correctly.

      So I guess my occasional treat of fish and chips has to go.

    • Croc 1.2

      Won’t happen, it’s pie in he sky talk.

      Plenty of our fish gets sent to China to be processed and then back to NZ to be packaged because it’s cheaper. That is really troubling.

  2. Tanz 2

    Absolute Leftist rubbish. Typical. Garth George is right, we are being ripped off.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      /facepalm

      Garth was describing what has come about due to the policies of the right and that includes the right-leaning Labour governments from the 1980s.

      • Vicky32 2.1.1

        Really, there is a lot more to GG than it often seems.. I have seen him here dismissed as a rightie, but he’s actually more nuanced – he has been critical of the right, especially as he gets older. He’s not a bad person!
        Deb

        • bbfloyd 2.1.1.1

          Vicky… he is a crusty old reactionary…. but that doesn’t mean he can’t get it right occasionally.

        • millsy 2.1.1.2

          He is what the Americans call a paleo-conservative. Staunchly socially conservative, but can be at least damp economically at times. Sorta like Winston Peters or Rob Muldoon.

          We have a mini-Garth George down in New Plymouth writing in the Daily News, he hates women, gays, solo mothers, young people, etc, but supports KiwiBank and central planning in the energy sector.

          • bbfloyd 2.1.1.2.1

            sounds like a good national party prospect for next year… what’s his name? ..i’ll check out his columns… i could do with a laugh occasionally..

            • millsy 2.1.1.2.1.1

              John de Beuger. My parents next door neighbour.

              In some aspect this guy makes GG look like a bleeding heart liberal.

    • headlessrd 2.2

      Tanz you are right supermarkets are charging too high a mark up on their goods. What we need is some sort of regulation to stop them doing that. Oh wait, that’s what the Greens are proposing…

      The issue with sea food is fish stocks. Very few states are actually fishing within their quotas and these quotas are set far too high. I don’t eat fish, and neither does my family, partly for this very reason.

    • Marty G 2.3

      if we’re being ‘ripped off’ the market should solve the problem – someone would sell cheaper to get more of the market

      according to rightwing market ideology, it is impossible for us to be ripped off by competing retailers.

      you’re going to have to learn to engage your brain when you comment here, or get used to looking like a fool each and every time.

      • infused 2.3.1

        Yeah, that’s called a monopoly. Go get you’re fishing rod. Good thing I hate sea food.

        • comedy 2.3.1.1

          Anyone who buys fish from the supermarket needs their head reading, the taste has almost done a runner and the price is ludicrous.

          Catch them youself or go to the real market

          http://www.afm.co.nz/wholesale/index.cfm

          Warning – When you see how much you can get good seafood for here you may feel like bombing your local Progressive or Foodstuffs outlet.

          • felix 2.3.1.1.1

            “Anyone who buys fish from the supermarket needs their head reading, the taste has almost done a runner and the price is ludicrous.”

            Agree.

          • Draco T Bastard 2.3.1.1.2

            What? People don’t feel like doing that anyway?

            Supermarkets have been making super profits for awhile now. The duopoly that we have doesn’t help and the fact that people just go there from habit helps even less.

          • Kaplan 2.3.1.1.3

            Agree also, but we get ours at a reasonable price _and_ delivered every week:
            http://www.sea2door.co.nz/
            Well worth a look if you are in the Christchurch area.

            As for Garth, he’s half right but as usual doesn’t connect the dots to reach the truth.

        • Marty G 2.3.1.2

          no, infused. It’s not the monopoly that’s the problem – it’s the lack of fish.

          more competition won’t create more fish.

      • Herodotus 2.3.2

        In todays Sunday Herald there are 2 letters to the editor commenting on the lower cost of NZ fish in Aussie supermarkets compared to the domestic scene. So do we see yet again the domenstic market paying a premium compare to the export. Similar expressions have also been made towards NZ meat. Back in the previous Nat govt in the 90’s I recall (Memory maybe a bit hazzey) that we in NZ paid international price for NZ meat (yet farmers of meat are struggling to make a $), then when the price went down that there were other mechanisms at play e.g. supply agreements etc that resulted in us in NZ not following the international price. It appeared then and now of the meat board/fishing industry etc cherry picking reasons for the continuation of high pricing. If we pay international rates then should not the likes of wages also follow??? We wish 😉
        p.s. Does not the fishing industry rely on cheap Asian sourced labour to man their ships. High price, low cost labour = an awful lot of $$$ that someone is making.

        • KJT 2.3.2.1

          Ask why a house built with NZ supplied building products is cheaper to build in Australia, despite much higher wages.

          We have been subsidising exports for a long time.
          Trouble is we need the exports to pay the interest on speculative gambling.

    • bbfloyd 2.4

      Tanz.. when you preface a comment with a partisan political insult, you do no more than discredit anything that follows. try to do a bit of thinking next time you try this.. just a few seconds should do it…

  3. Zorr 3

    haha… blue cod @ more than $40 per kilo? Living in Christchurch some of the local fish suppliers sell it regularly at $10-11 per kilo.

    Maybe Garth just needs to change addresses to get the benefit of cheap fish?

  4. Nick K 4

    Of course as we have got wealthier as a country, the more tasteful delicacies are consumed. That is one reason why Oysters and Prawns etc are in demand more.

    I don’t think the average New Zealander though is overly concerned about not being able to have a feed of Bluff Oysters.

    When I go to the fruit and vege shop, there are still plenty of fruit and veges.

    One thing that is of concern, and probably contributes to fatter kids, is a $5 bag of sausages from the Mad Butcher, which will last a family 2-3 days. Yet $5 wouldn’t get you enough fish to feed one person. That’s a worry.

    • Vicky32 4.1

      Like Garth George, I ate oysters and crayfish when I was a child – and we were a poor family! (Pretty self-sufficient but – we only ever bought some meat, some fish, and the things we couldn’t make! So, we were able to afford stuff I certainly can’t now…) For whatever reason, oysters etc were not luxury items in the mid-1960s! We harvested mussels and pipi at the beach as well..
      Deb

    • bbfloyd 5.1

      felix ….. no argument on garth there, but just one point…… how much of that whole fish is actually edible? i admit that i’m not one of those that can enjoy fish eyes, or fish head soup for that matter, but if you take the fillets away, how much weight is left?……….in fact, check out the prices for fillets on the left of the same page. $17.20 with skin on,$18.95 without skin.

      my god…. garth might have been close… (gives me goosebumps).

      • felix 5.1.1

        Well spotted. I assumed the fillet prices were per kg but it turns out they’re per 500g.

        Perhaps I’m an imbecile too.

      • Lew 5.1.2

        GG isn’t wrong on price. Rule of thumb is 400g in fillets off a 1kg fish, tho this depends on species, etc, and smaller fish tend to have a lower ratio of usable fillets.

        But you’re a mug if you just buy fillets. They’re nice and all, but you pay such a huge premium for the privilege of someone else having done the relatively easy work of cleaning, filleting and gutting. Plus you miss out on heads and frames for soup, stock, and what-all.

        L

  5. millsy 6

    Personally I think our fishing industry needs to be looked at. Top to Bottom. Especially the quota system (which has pushed out small subistence style fishing operations).

    Plus we need to challenge the practise that Maori fishing concerns use offshore vessels and labour, when they should really be hiring and training their own people. Its absolutely stupid that my taxes are funneld into the pockets of Asian charter companies via the treaty settlement process because iwi barons cant be bothered training their own people (which is what that money is supposedly for), and instead leave them to rot on benefits.

    As for supermarkets, ideally we need our supermarket chains to be transformed into producer owned co-operatives, so there are no middle people. Imagine a supermarket owned by Fonterra/SFF?

    • Croc 6.1

      None of your taxes get funneled into Asian Charter companies.

      The charter boats are there because it’s not economical to catch certain species given NZ wages. Jack Mackeral and squid is case and point.

  6. Tanz 7

    Yes, in a land surrounded by water and fish, snapper and the likes is gold plated. The only fish I eat is from the tin! Why has the money trader not transferred his knowledge to the NZ economy?

  7. Tanz 8

    Left the gang at Red Alert, Millsy? I’m on joy.

  8. Rharn 9

    Have not read GG’S article but did he mention whitebait and crays’ in the same sentence as oysters?

    And where have all the flounder gone. Have not seen one of them in the fish shop for ages.

    Anyone know where they can be bought in Chch.

    • Marty G 9.1

      well, there’s not a lot left and overseas markets can afford to pay more.

      Those who have pointed out that the same NZ product can sometimes to cheaper abroad, the explanation is bulk purchasing.

  9. Greg 10

    I know from working at one that the average (although on seafood alone it may be much higher) markup at a supermarket is around 2%. Now I have no idea if they’re making super profits or not, but even if they are there is not significant scope for them to cut profits in a way that would have a material impact upon out lives.

  10. MrSmith 11

    Talley’s + Nact = $ 4 Talley’s surprised I’m not

  11. mikesh 12

    On checking the website quoted by Felix I find that I can buy a kilo of snapper from them for $18.40. But it costs another $20.30 to get it to Wellington. If I buy in bulk it’s cheaper of course; 6 kilos for example would set me back $22.00 per kilo including freight. It looks as though you are, at $40.00 per kilo, paying for the privalege of being able to purchase snapper 1 kilo at a time.

  12. KINTO 13

    Its pretty damn simple everyone! Like a bank account, if you withdraw (harvest), more than the interest (rate of reproduction), then the money in the account (biomass), is going to be reduced, earning you less interest in future.

    For a bunch of people who claim to be fiscal experts, the conservative right are pretty damn clueless when it comes to analogies.

    • Draco T Bastard 13.1

      They seem to think that the world is “thus” and that it will always be “thus” and will never change no matter what we do. Ergo, they think that it doesn’t matter how much we take as long as they become richer (with money).

      • felix 13.1.1

        I’ve found the right in general are incapable of factoring time into any mental equation; this is true of the conservative right by definition.

  13. Locus 14

    aside from the price of fish… the main point made by Marty G was that that it’s madness to give away our natural resources to overseas owners. Actually it’s madness to sell control of our natural resources to overseas interests – even if at a 50% premium, because in 20 years they’ll be worth 5 times what they’re worth today, and in 40 years 10 times and so on – and that’s assuming factoring back to 2010 prices.

  14. Croc 15

    The theory of maximum sustainable yield is that stressed populations actually produce more biomass over a period of time than an unstressed population.

    Also quota can only be owned by New Zealand citizens or NZ owned companies so foreign ownership is not really a concern in fisheries at least.

  15. ZeeBop 16

    Garth is right but totally wrong. Distribution of oyster lovers has gone global so
    without efficient means of distribution a lot more spoilage is created, and with
    no distance costing put in the price. The wealthy who want their oysters will
    force the locals out of the market and a lot more waste to get their oysters on
    the London and Paris plate. So the obvious thing is to build a local buyer who
    can realize the cost advantage from not sending them to the rich in Europe.
    Now why would the speculator classes who make fees on foriegn trade want
    that, they would not. So for now the rich will continue to waste product on the
    consumption side just as we have in the past wasted product on the production
    side by mismanaging the fisheries. Its because capitalism doesn’t naturally
    run itself efficiently with a greedy aggressive middle man species called human
    beings! Governments need to manage flow to redirect bad outcomes to good
    ones. So government needs to manage the fisheries so that only 10% can
    go offshore, and the rest stay here, if people what oysters they better get on
    a plane and come here to have them. We then create jobs in transport and tourism,
    and low and behold the price of oysters to the stupid rich in London and Paris
    shifts that government does not need to set the 10% rule any more, because now
    there are tourism drawing down the price here in NZ (that cost of mismanaging
    the product to the other side of the world).

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