'Model' fishermen face grim charges

Officers from Oyang 75  face 26 Fisheries Act charges  next month.
Officers from Oyang 75 face 26 Fisheries Act charges next month.

Five officers of a Korean fishing boat are facing court charges over alleged offences linked to dumping fish overboard in a process called "high grading" in the hope of later getting better quality fish.

The Ministry of Fisheries confirmed the officers and captain of Oyang 75 will appear in the Christchurch District Court next month facing 26 charges under the Fisheries Act.

They have not disclosed the charges but say a possible penalty is the forfeiture of Oyang 75, owned by Korea's Sajo Oyang Corporation.

The ship came to New Zealand this year to replace Oyang 70, which sank last year with the loss of six crew. A coronial inquest into those deaths will be held next month in Wellington.

Oyang 75 mounted only one fishing mission before returning to Lyttelton in July, where its 32 Indonesian crew walked-off in protest at physical abuse and poor conditions.

The incident and a walk off from an Auckland-based Oyang-linked ship, Shin Ji, and Sunday Star-Times revelations of slave labour conditions aboard foreign charter vessels, led the government to set up a joint ministerial inquiry.

MFish compliance official Andrew Coleman said the ship had been investigated for allegedly discarding fish, and other serious fisheries offences.

The ship was last week allowed to sail from Lyttelton, but Sajo Oyang has posted a bond over the vessel and other security.

Information compiled from statements made by Asian crew who work on foreign charter vessels reveals that around 52,500 tonnes of fish is dumped from them each year. That is around 11% of the total fish exports from New Zealand.

Some foreign charter vessels have New Zealand observers aboard, but the crews say the dumping is done while the observers are asleep. Poor quality fish caught while the observer is awake is processed into the hold, but secretly marked for later dumping.

MFish earlier this year refused an Official Information Act request for details of observer reports on high-grading and trucking, which involves moving quota fish from one area to say it was caught somewhere else.

There was an observer on Oyang 75 for its solitary squid fishing operation near the Auckland Islands.

Before it left on that trip, Oyang spokesman Glenn Inwood invited media aboard, saying it was a model of modern fishing.

MFish also placed four officers aboard to "upskill to be more effective managers of New Zealand's world-class quota management system", Inwood said.

In a letter to the editor in July, Inwood said "during its entire period of operating in New Zealand, Sajo Oyang, its officers and crew and representatives have never been the subject of a prosecution.

"That is a rare accomplishment in an industry as highly regulated as the New Zealand fishing industry and speaks volumes as to the level of commitment that both companies have to compliance with New Zealand fisheries laws," Inwood said. "Even some of New Zealand's largest fishing companies cannot boast of a compliance record to this standard."

Sunday Star Times