Fishing giants may join forces

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:58 13/08/2014

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Two of New Zealand's biggest seafood companies are in talks about consolidating their fishing efforts, a senior manager revealed at a Nelson conference.

Sealord confirmed this morning that talks with Sanford were advanced.

Sanford inshore fisheries manager Shane Walsh yesterday told delegates to the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society's annual conference that he had been in a meeting at Sealord earlier in the day.

"We were talking about why do we have all these vessels catching hoki? Why don't we work together and create a one fleet-type approach? It's about increasing efficiencies but working with other people to achieve that."

He returned to the theme later in his speech, again mentioning the meeting with Sealord.

"Why do we need three boats to go and catch a certain species of fish when we can just have two boats there and have some sort of cooperative arrangement?

"What about processing facilities? Why do we need to have two factories, one on one side of the road, the other one on the other side?"

Instead, competitors might work together to improve supply chain efficiencies and create value, he said.

Auckland-based Sanford owns about 25 per cent of New Zealand's fish quota, with Sealord, Talley's and iwi the other major players.

Sealord fishing general manager Doug Paulin told the Nelson Mail he endorsed Walsh's comments. Both companies had excess fishing capacity, and consolidating their fleets would be "a huge opportunity to save costs in a pretty tough industry at the moment".

Paulin said Sealord and Sanford had been in talks for about six months.

He expected there would be another six months of discussions before changes leading into the 2015-16 fishing year.

Any implications for staff numbers would depend on the vessels, who crewed them and what they were fishing for, he said.

While fishing was "as good as it's ever been", the industry was faced with an unfavourable exchange rate and commodity pricing of fish that was "not really going up", with margins being squeezed, Paulin said.

In his speech at the Rutherford Hotel, Walsh said New Zealand should be proud that it was "the All Blacks of fisheries management", but it was well outside the top 10 of international production by volume, and had no international industry influence.

"We're never going to catch up in terms of volume, but what we can do is catch up in terms of value. We need to differentiate ourselves."

This could be done through increasing efficiency by working with competitors, and by moving from sustainability to promoting the provenance of the product, he said.

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"People don't only want to know that this fish has come from sustainable fisheries. They want to know where it has come from, what was the name of the vessel, what was the name of the skipper.

"We need to move beyond sustainability. We need to tell a story."

Collaborations with science providers such as the Cawthron Institute, Niwa and Plant & Food Research were taking the industry forward through innovations such as a new trawling method unveiled last year, he said. "This helps us to move beyond a commodity and to find a New Zealand point of difference."

Walsh said the Ministry for Primary Industries and NZ Trade and Enterprise were very supportive in ensuring market access.

"Government needs to commit itself to building and defending the New Zealand brand, and ensuring strict standards - this is very important."

Answering a question, Walsh said the quota management system had been held up as the best in the world for a long time, "but things are moving on".

"So how do we keep up? That's a perfect example of us getting together and saying, ‘We've got this system, this is what others are doing, how do we become a world leader again?' We can't stand still."

- The Nelson Mail

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