A big crowd join Bishop Richard Ellena, Reverend Jeff Cotton and Father David Gruscol to bless the fishing fleet at Sunderland Pier on Saturday. Photo: Jessie Johnston.

Blessing for an already ‘very good’ hoki season

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Nelson’s fishing community paused for a few hours on Saturday to remember the lives of those who have been lost at sea but then it was all hands back on deck as the hoki season gets off to another “very good” start.

A big crowd lined the Port Nelson waterfront for Saturday’s annual Blessing of the Fleet, which is both a poignant memorial and a blessing for people from around the Nelson-Tasman region who will work at sea this season. The annual ceremony started on Friday night with a fireworks display and continued on Saturday when a fleet of fishing boats, offshore from Wakefield Quay, was blessed by Bishop Richard Ellena, Reverend Jeff Cotton and Father David Gruscol.

The blessing was followed by a fresh fish market and a display by the Coastguard while spectators enjoyed fish and chips cooked by Nelson Rotarians. Seafarers Memorial Trust chairman and event organiser, Mike Smith, says he was delighted with the ceremony, which is not only a time for people to reflect on the tragedy of lives lost at sea but also to appreciate the importance of the fishing industry to the region. “It’s hugely important.  I believe that 26 per cent of the working population are involved in the fishing industry.”

Although the blessing marks the official start of the hoki season, Sealord fishing general manager Doug Paulin says they have been catching hoki offshore from the West Coast for the last month. Sealord has three factory trawlers and three chartered Ukrainian vessels fishing for hoki and Doug says they have had a great start to the season. “We have had good-sized fish and they have been relatively easy to catch,” he says. “It’s great news.”

Sealord has 344 sea-going staff and 250 land-based staff working on the hoki season that is expected to continue until early or mid-September. Sealord has a quota for 43,000 tonnes of hoki and has purchased another 9000 tonnes of the total allowable commercial catch of 150,000 tonnes.

Talley’s Nelson division manager Tony Hazlett says they already have three large vessels and “a heap of small inshore owner-operator boats” fishing for hoki off the West Coast. Talley’s has 135 people aboard the large trawlers and 430 land-based staff for the hoki season.

“It’s looking very good for the future. The fisheries management we have in place is now really starting to pay off.”