Fishing rivals in 'dangerous game of chicken'

Fishing boats from two rival Kiwi companies have been playing a dangerous game of chicken in the Southern Ocean, Maritime New Zealand documents reveal.

Two boats' trawling gear became entangled in an incident about 30 kilometres north of the Auckland Islands in March, as part of what one company says was a campaign to drive it out of the New Zealand coastal charter-fishing business.

Southern Storm Fishing, based in Christchurch, reported the incident to Maritime NZ, saying Talley's Fisheries boat the Amaltal Explorer approached its boat, the Oyang 77, and "shot" its net from the starboard side.

Maritime NZ documents obtained by The Dominion Post show that the Amaltal Explorer then veered through the Oyang 77's wake. The nets from the two boats collided under water and the Amaltal Explorer lost an otter board (a fitting on the outside of its net).

Animosity between the two companies stems from Southern Storm Fishing chartering boats from a Korean firm.

Talley's Fisheries, of Nelson, strongly opposes the use of foreign-owned charter-fishing boats off the New Zealand coast.

Documents obtained by The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act reveal the incident happened on March 15. A Southern Storm Fishing spokesman said it was part of a "dangerous extension" to the campaign against the company.

Talley's spokesman Tony Hazlett confirmed that one of the Amaltal Explorer's large steel trawl doors had been dislodged in the incident.

"Due to potential recovery actions [against Southern Storm Fishing], I am unable to comment on this further," Mr Hazlett said.

Nelson lawyer Martin Logan, who is acting for Southern Storm Fishing, said his client had denied any liability for the losses.

The investigation into the incident by Maritime NZ did not apportion blame to either party.

Maritime NZ investigator Domonic Venz found that, as both boats were engaged in fishing at the time, both had equal rights with regard to giving way.

He reinforced the need for courtesy and good communications between boats when working in close proximity.

Mr Hazlett said Talley's supported the ministerial inquiry into foreign fishing charter boats in New Zealand waters announced by Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley last week.

"Our view has been consistent that New Zealand fishing resources should employ New Zealanders."

Southern Storm Fishing is currently embroiled in an industrial dispute at Lyttelton involving 32 of its Indonesian crew formerly employed on another boat, the Oyang 75.

Foreign charter boats catch nearly half of New Zealand's commercial fishing take.

In the 2008-09 fishing year, 30 of them caught 198,000 tonnes, while 1142 domestic boats, including the inshore fleet, caught 221,000 tonnes.

The Dominion Post