Early sailing foils protesters
Two women swam towards a longliner leaving Port Nelson for Antarctica this morning and unfurled a banner saying "Save the Ross Sea", in an anti-toothfishing protest.
A protest flotilla had been planned but was thwarted when the longliner Janas slipped out of the port five hours early. The two swimmers stayed well clear of the ship's path.
Harbourmaster Dave Duncan said he had suggested that the New Zealand longline joint venture ship leave this morning instead of at 2.30 this afternoon because it was too much of a risk to have it confronted by a flotilla.
It sailed just after 9.30am.
Captain Duncan said neither protest spokesman Colin Robertson nor any other organiser had alerted the port to the plan, which had called for boats to assemble at 2pm, and land-based protesters to gather at the Seafarers Memorial.
He had found out about it from a leaflet distributed at the marina at the weekend, and put it to New Zealand Longline that it would be safer to sail early.
Though there would have been no issue if the protest boats had kept clear of the ship as it left the port, "it would have been nice to be told".
"It's just too dangerous to take them on, really," he said.
Fishing for toothfish in the Antarctic's Ross Sea has been controversial this year and in an email distributed to media outlets overnight, Mr Robertson said to "expect many boats with banners from autonomous individuals gathered to oppose this plunder".
He told the Nelson Mail that the protest was not directly linked to any group, but he had been liaising with environmental organisations which he did not want to name. Speaking at 8.45am, before he knew of the early departure, he said he had not formally alerted the port company because that might have caused the sailing to be moved to avoid the protest fleet.
"I think there'll be a minimum of 10 boats and 30 people, but it's impossible to tell the scale of these things especially since there's an awful lot of boats in the marina and an awful lot of strength of feeling around this."
New Zealand Longline spokesman Ross Tocker said his message to the protesters was, "we are the good guys".
"We're passionate about the Antarctic, we have the same objectives as everyone else who really wants to see it protected."
Under an international agreement the fleet took only about 3 per cent of the estimated toothfish stock "and because New Zealanders are there, we're keeping an eye out on the Antarctic for New Zealanders".
He said the other New Zealand Longline boat, the Antarctic Chieftain, was on the Calwell Slip for painting and other work and its departure was some time away.
New Zealand Longline is a Sealord-Talley's joint venture.
A third toothfish boat, the Sparta, is Russian-registered and currently listed to leave the port on Wednesday next week. It was holed by ice last season and has been repaired and ice-strengthened at Port Nelson.
The fishery opens on December 1. Mr Tocker said that as an "Olympic fishery", there was an overall quota with catches reported daily and fishing to cease when it was reached. Last year the two Nelson boats were targeting around 350 tonnes of fish and it would be similar this year.
Twenty-four licences had been issued, with two Sanford boats making up the other half of the New Zealand-registered fleet, he said.
The Nelson Mail