Sealord hoki trawler raises ire

Iwi co-owned Sealord Group is copping flak in Australia over plans to use a large factory trawler to fish for hoki off the Tasmanian coast.

Meridian 1, a 4407 gross-ton 104-metre long Ukrainian-owned trawler, has fished in New Zealand for Sealord for more than a decade. It is planned to fish for Hoki called blue grenadier in Australia.

"This is as large a vessel as has ever fished in Australian waters," Australian Marine Conservation Society marine campaigner Tooni Mahto said.

"It's foreign-owned and crewed, and there's a lot of uncertainty about who has oversight of it."

The ship is in Cook Strait with no announcement on when it will cross the Tasman.

It would be the largest trawler to operate in Australia.

Although a familiar sight in Nelson, along with several other big Soviet-era trawlers, the 23-year-old Meridian 1 has a complex ownership structure, flying the Dominican flag and registered in Vanuatu, using a Ukrainian crew. It is owned by Sevastopol State in Crimea, now occupied by Russia, but its Australian charterers say off Tasmania it will fly the New Zealand flag.

The ship has been chartered by Petuna Seafood Deepwater Fishing which is half-owned by Tasmanian Peter Rockliff and family and by Sealord. Sealord in turn is 50/50 owned by iwi and Japan's Nippon Suisan Kaisha.

Petuna denies the size of Meridian is a threat to the fishery.

"The size of the ship does not dictate the size of the catch," it said.

It can only fish by quota granted by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

Rockliff said their commitment of sustainable fishing meant they would be fishing below their quota this year. He said the company called a public meeting in January to discuss any concerns Tasmanians might have about the ship, but no one came.

The ship would have a government observer aboard throughout the fishing.

Petuna managing director Les Scott said fishing for hoki off Tasmania's west coast only happened in July and August.

"It's therefore always been the practice to charter a NZ-flagged vessel from Sealord specific to the purpose for that short period," he said.

"The factory ships are essential to the blue grenadier fishery as this species needs to be frozen on board for its quality to be maintained for the market."

Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck said the Australian Greens and environmental groups were "running a cheap and nasty fear campaign" over the ship arriving from New Zealand.

"The [hoki] fishery operates for 49 days over July and August off the west coast of Tasmania which experiences some of the most hostile marine conditions in the world," he said.

"Waves of more than eight metres have been recorded ... in the region during the last week."

Greenpeace said humanitarian and environmental abuses had occurred in association with foreign charter vessels operating in New Zealand.

"It's not in Australia's interest to import that sort of catastrophe from across the Tasman," Greenpeace Australia Pacific Oceans Campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle said.

A bill before the New Zealand Parliament will, if passed before the general election, end the use of foreign charter fishing vessels in New Zealand waters. Ships will have to be re-flagged to New Zealand, and be subject to New Zealand law, from 2016.