What Words Do – Problem Of Dehumanisation Of Fishing

The world is looking a bit pinker this morning, perhaps you’re a little pinker yourself. That’s because today is Pink Shirt Day, a day where we come together and take a stand against bullying.

Unfortunately, in Aotearoa, bullying is a big issue. We have one of the highest rates of bullying in the world.

When you think about bullying, you usually think about people – or perhaps the school bully from your past? You don’t tend to think about entire industries being on the receiving end. But that’s what it feels like some days in the commercial fishing industry and it’s taking a real toll on our people.

Many of the amazing people who work in our industry have been called names or threatened with violence. Some have been tailed or harassed while fishing, and in at least one case the bullying spilled over into the school playground, where the fisher’s children were also targeted.

Talk to a Kiwi fisher for just a couple of minutes and you quickly get a feel for what it can be like for them out there. One fisher we spoke with said if we were to meet him at a BBQ or social event, he’d likely tell us he’s a builder, because it’s not worth the “immediate kickback” he gets when he says he’s a fisher.

When out on the water, the same fisher and his crew like to give other vessels a friendly wave as they pass by, as you do. Unfortunately, they don’t always get the same reply and have become used to having the big finger waved back in their direction, but it doesn’t feel great.

While not a fan of the behaviour he’s become somewhat accustomed to, the fisher has a sympathetic view on things.

“I mean, it’s of no fault to the general public, you know. They really only know what the media has told them.

“People think we’re the bad ones all the time but they don’t realise that we’re so highly regulated, we’re so aware of what we’re doing, and we work really really bloody hard to do it the right way and to make a living out of it.

“We’re just like any Joe Blogs, you’ve got a Mrs, a handful of kids, a mortgage and power bills. We’re just normal people trying to make a living.”

Sadly, this behaviour isn’t just a New Zealand problem.

We came across a LinkedIn post this week by Australian-based fisheries expert and consultant Rob Fish (yes, that is his last name). His post calls out the dehumanisation of commercial fishing and says it’s time to address the harsh and unfair narrative that has persisted for too long. Rob, is kindly letting us share some of what he said below.

“Individuals in commercial fishing are often labelled with degrading terms like “rapists” and “pillagers,” and their equipment is described as “indiscriminate killers.” Such language isn’t just inappropriate; it’s dangerous and dehumanising.

“Dehumanisation-the practice of making others seem less human-fuels division and hate. It’s a process that has historically paved the way for violence and atrocities by stripping away empathy and regard for other human beings. It’s essential to understand that words are powerful: they can either uphold dignity or erode it.

“We must challenge this narrative not just because it’s morally wrong but because it prevents us from engaging in meaningful conversations about sustainability in industries like fishing. These discussions are crucial for progress and understanding, yet they’re undermined by rhetoric that paints hardworking individuals as villains or worse.”

Ka pai, Rob. We recommend you take a moment to read the full post here.

We’re sure many of you have a story to tell, and perhaps that’s something we should be looking to do more of, speaking up about this bullying and supporting each other. After all, the Pink Shirt Day kaupapa tells us to do just that – Kōrero Mai, Kōrero Atu, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora – Speak Up, Stand Together, Stop Bullying!

/Public Release. View in full here.