Sanford's grubby look

19:50, Jan 13 2013

Sanford describes itself as a large and long-established fishing company devoted to the harvesting, farming, processing, storage and marketing of quality seafood and aquaculture products, "with a focus on the clear waters of New Zealand".

This suggests it is not so fussy about muddying the waters around other countries although it does declare it aims to act responsibly in its commercial operations "in accordance with international best practice in the marine and coastal environment . . ."

Sanford takes pride in its "proven history of environmental leadership" in the fishing industry. For example, it publicly reports its environmental, social and economic performance against targets it has established to reduce its environmental footprint.

But the company's portrayal of itself as a good corporate citizen has been tarnished by an incident in American Samoa. The US Coast Guard about 18 months ago witnessed a Sanford tuna boat crew clearing a bilge by pumping directly overboard without using the vessel's oil/water separator. On Friday an American judge fined the company US$1.9 million (NZ$2.27m) for dumping oil waste at sea and attempting to cover up its actions, and the ship's chief engineer was jailed for a month (he then faces five months' home detention and 18 months' probation and must pay a US$6000 fine). Further penalties include a three-year probationary period during which Sanford vessels cannot enter US ports. The company has stopped operating in US waters, anyway, because it cannot get insurance to fish there.

Anxious to repair the damage to its image, the company has taken the penalty on the chin. Managing director Eric Barratt prudently said there would be no appeal; Sanford will concentrate on improving its environmental compliance. Critics of the Government's environmental policies will want to cite Sanford as further evidence of the "100 per cent pure" brand being a joke (which it is). National Party president Peter Goodfellow is a Sanford director.

But while Kiwis fret about threats to our clean green image, Tourism NZ can find no evidence of negative articles about our environmental management affecting potential tourists' views.

We might think these embarrassments are a big deal but the world pays scant attention.