Trawlers 'plundering' fish stocks

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 02/08/2012

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Just over the horizon a fleet of gigantic factory trawlers are plundering Taranaki's fish stocks, a New Plymouth fisherman claims.

Chris Davidson has fished the waters off the Taranaki coast for more than a decade and tonight will star in the documentary The Price of Fish, allegedly exposing the dodgy practices of chartered fishing trawlers in New Zealand waters.

Two of the country's largest fishing companies, Sealord and Independent Fisheries, have already questioned the documentary's veracity but Mr Davidson stands by his claims.

He said he first encountered the foreign trawlers about 10 years ago outside the 12 mile limit.

"I was fishing for bluenose off the shelf and suddenly I was surrounded by eight 300 foot factory trawlers taking everything. I steamed three hours back in to get phone reception to call up MAF to say we had poachers. They said ‘Oh no, they are allowed to be here' and that was it," Mr Davidson said.

Officially targeting mackerel, he said the boats were taking everything in their path including the bluenose for which he used to hold 80 per cent of the quota.

Mr Davidson alleges everything the boats caught outside of their own quota they processed into fishmeal. Though government observers are now on most boats he said this was a recent development and before that rules were regularly broken.

"The greens sector thinks they have made this huge victory by knocking a few inshore fishermen out further for the maui's dolphin but it's like saving an ant and thinking you have saved a colony. These guys catch more in one run than those inshore guys catch in a year," he said.

Independent Fisheries fleet manager Steve Bishop said they operated two Ukrainian chartered factory trawlers and neither were currently working off the Taranaki coast.

He said they usually came to the North Island's west coast from mid-November to mid-January to target jack mackerel.

"Just about every trip we have government observers on. They keep a close eye on what we catch and what we do with it," he said.

Sealord's deep water harvest manager Colin Williams said they operated three Ukrainian factory trawlers which were bound by law to operate at least 22 miles off the coast. He said they did not charter any Korean trawlers and the documentary maker Guye Henderson had not approached Sealord for comment.

"I expect it will be a horrendously biased documentary by a horrendously biased documentary maker.

"We are more than comfortable in our own skin and comfortable with how we operate within the framework," Mr Williams said.

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Henderson, whose first fishing documentary The Great New Zealand Fishing Scandal aired on Sky's documentary channel in 2009, said 27 foreign chartered fishing vessels worked in New Zealand waters.

He said a new study would soon be released showing that the illegal dumping and fish-mealing of fish in New Zealand by foreign chartered vessels cost the country an estimated $300 million a year.

Henderson said he had requested an interview with Sealords.

The Price of Fish: Tonight 9.30pm TV3

- Taranaki Daily News

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