Sealord, Talley's urge hoki take rise

Nelson's two giant seafood companies, Sealord and Talley's, say the hoki fishery is in great shape and are advocating a 20,000-tonne commercial catch hike for the 2013-14 fishing year beginning on October 1.

They are also buoyed by an improving exchange rate for exporters and are predicting a bright future, with potential growth in investment and jobs.

Sealord holds about 30 per cent of hoki quota and Talley's about 20 per cent, with Sanford, the other big player, also owning about 20 per cent.

The total allowable commercial catch has been 130,000 tonnes for the past several years, with the big companies and the representative Deepwater Group all advocating a conservative approach to ensure sustainable fishing into the future.

The Ministry for Primary Industries last week released the latest comprehensive scientific assessment of the state of New Zealand's fisheries. It said seven years of increases in hoki stocks was a highlight, and signalled a Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) increase.

"Hoki is the star performer," a ministry release said.

"A few short years ago, there was concern the western stock had become depleted. Science has driven strong and decisive management action and ensured the full restoration of hoki New Zealand-wide, even surpassing management benchmarks."

It also noted "substantially improved" orange roughy stock on the Chatham Rise, partly as the result of a new spawning area being found, a marked improvement in snapper stocks and catch rates in the top of the south, and stocks of ling and hake on the West Coast of the South Island assessed as "well above their management targets".

Hoki is very important to Sealord and Talley's, and both groups told the Nelson Mail the ministry's results pointed to a positive future.

Sealord general manager of fishing, Doug Paulin, said the TACC could be lifted by 30,000 tonnes.

"However, we believe the right thing is to be conservative."

A lift of 20,000 tonnes was suitably conservative, and sustainable.

"That's on the back of very positive science and incredibly good recruitment of young fish into the fishery."

The 2011 year class provided the highest recruitment in 20 years, and that came on the back of a number of other good years, Paulin said.

He said because Sealord had increased its fleet last year it had to buy in annual catch entitlement (ACE) from other quota-holders such as iwi groups and Aotea, Independent and United Fisheries. A 20,000-tonne increase would mean another 6000 tonnes for Sealord, so it wouldn't need so much ACE next year.

"We'll be able to do it more profitably, instead of having to pay for the right to catch it, it'll be quota we actually own."

He said the industry had come a long way since the aggressive fishing of 15 to 20 years ago and Sealord would always be guided by the assessments done by the ministry and its own scientists.

"On the back of believing that the hoki fishery will continue to improve, we'll continue to manage it conservatively, but within that, in future years, there's still potential for increases as the science supports it." This would also open the door to further investment with the potential for more jobs.

"We do want to grow as our fisheries improve," Paulin said.

The news on orange roughy, partly driven by Sealord's own investment in scientific survey equipment, was also heartening. There could be a small lift in TACC but more significantly, conservative management of the once-plundered stock was leading towards Marine Stewardship Council certification of the fish, which would make it the first orange roughy in the world to achieve this international sustainability stamp.

"It is important for the world to understand that New Zealand is starting to manage that fish on a very sustainable basis. In the heyday they were mowing it down like it was going out of fashion."

The recent fall in the value of the New Zealand dollar to under US80c has also been welcome news. Paulin said that when last year's business plan was drawn up, the exchange rate against the US dollar was around 76.5c. It climbed to 85c, "a massive hit to the business".

"It's been a tough year."

Talley's Nelson division chief executive Tony Hazlett said a 20,000-tonne hoki increase was appropriate.

"We're really happy with the way the hoki fishery is at the moment, and the future is looking really promising."

The Nelson Mail