Nelson-based fishing company Sealord says it regrets trawling a protected area which saw it being ordered to forfeit a $24m vessel as well as pay fines equating to $24,000.
In the Nelson District Court on Friday, Sealord vessel master Bolen Terric Goomes was fined $7500 and first mate Thomas Adrian Pope was fined $5000.
They were convicted on one representative charge each, relating to five trawls for the company between 26 – 28 October 2018, three trawls for the skipper and two trawls for the first mate.
The company’s commercial vessel Ocean Dawn trawled in a Benthic Protected Area during a hoki trip to the Chatham Rise – about 200 nautical miles east of Christchurch.
These large areas of mostly pristine marine environment are home to underwater mountains, valleys, geysers, and muddy flats where all bottom trawling and dredging is illegal.
Sealord chief operating officer Doug Paulin said as soon as the vessel realised the error fishing operations were stopped and the incident was reported to Sealord management, who immediately self-reported to the MPI.
“At Sealord we pride ourselves on doing the right thing, and we deeply regret that this incident happened. Sealord fully cooperated in MPI’s investigations and completed our own internal investigation to better understand how this mistake occurred.”
For each of the trawls the net was hard on the seabed and within the lower buffer zone of 50 metres off the bottom.
The quantity of sponges reported caught as by-catch by Sealord in the five illegal trawls was 1300kg and approximately 40,000kg of fish was caught during the five trawls.
In addition to the vessel Ocean Dawn being forfeit, the proceeds from the sale of the entire catch taken in the five offending trawls is also forfeit which amounts to $112,294.13.
Doug says an internal review has been carried out with minor amendments being made to processes.
This includes installing new geo-fencing technology (alarms) on board the vessel.
He says the court “recognised the efforts made to ensure compliance and took this, amongst other things, into account in substantially reducing the fines imposed”.
“It is extremely important to us that we do all we can to ensure we learn from, and do not repeat, this mistake.
“While we are disappointed with [Friday’s] outcome, as we believe we did everything we reasonably could have done to prevent this incident occurring, we respect the court’s decision.”
Sealord will apply to the court to have the vessel returned to them.