Sealord buys $20m hoki trawler

Sealord is buying the leased trawler Ocean Dawn for "close to $20 million" in a move it says will secure 84 seagoing jobs and reinforce the strength of the hoki fishery.

The Nelson and Auckland-based seafood group acquired the 63-metre freezer factory trawler in mid-2011 on a three-year charter. It has fished out of Port Nelson since then.

General manager Sealord fishing Doug Paulin said the decision to buy the Ocean Dawn was a reflection of Sealord's confidence in the sustainability of hoki and its commitment to New Zealand-based fishing operations. It would also maintain onshore support jobs.

Sealord owns about a third of New Zealand's hoki quota and gained around 6000 tonnes when the Government increased the total allowable commercial catch by 20,000 tonnes for the current fishing year.

Hoki was Sealord's most important species, making up about half of Sealord's revenue by value, and the boat purchase was thanks to that quota increase, Paulin said.

"This investment is substantial at close to NZ$20m and underlines Sealord's confidence that hoki is one of the world's most sustainable white fish species with considerable upside in the future in both value and catch."

Built in Norway, the Ocean Dawn was launched in 1991. Its capacity is 500 tonnes of frozen fish and 150 tonnes of fishmeal.

The purchase of the ship comes as Sealord emerges from a disastrous seafood venture in Argentina.

The Argentina tie-up led to an overall loss of $44m for the year to September 30, and the failure to pay a dividend to its iwi and Japanese owners.

Last week chief executive Graham Stuart said the company had turned the corner, would report a "really good" half-year result shortly, and return to paying a dividend this year.

It also follows a $1.5m investment in a new fresh fish processing line at the Port Nelson factory last year and a deal with Woolworths in Australia that it says will more than double its trans-Tasman exports of fresh fish, also announced last week.

Sealord's last New Zealand boat purchase was in 2011 when it acquired the 42m Independent 1, which it had chartered for three years from Lyttelton-based Independent Fisheries, renaming it Aukaha.