Amaltal Fishing Company Ltd was found guilty of illegal bottom trawling in Hikurangi Marine Reserve, off the coast of Kaikōura.
Judge Rielly’s reserved decision comes months after the hearing that took place in August where the Talley’s-owned company had pleaded not guilty.
While the skipper of the Amaltal Mariner, Darryle Saunders, was sentenced and fined earlier this year after pleading guilty, Amaltal Fishing Co Ltd argued that it was not liable for the master’s offending, as he was employed by a different company within the Talley’s group.
However, Judge Rielly held that the actions of the skipper of a vessel can and should be attributed to the vessel’s operator.
“In the context of increasingly complicated limited liability company structures, it is important that the integrity of the Marine Reserves Act is maintained. It would be an unfortunate outcome at law if the consequences intended by parliament could be evaded based on advanced company structures,” he said.
The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) said the decision sends a strong message to companies that break the rules.
“The Hikurangi Marine Reserve, off the coast of Kaikōura, encompasses the Kaikōura Canyon, reputedly the most biologically rich ocean habitat known in the world at depths of below 500 metres. All marine life and habitats within it are totally protected,” said MPI’s manager fisheries compliance, Steve Ham.
Amaltal Mariner was bottom trawling for orange roughy when it entered the marine reserve.
On 17 March 2019, the Amaltal Mariner started a bottom trawl 900 metres inside the Hikurangi Marine Reserve. The net was towed into the reserve where it travelled along the seafloor for 10 to 12 minutes, covering a distance of between 1100 and 1400 metres.
“MPI expects fishing companies and skippers to know the rules before they go out and we expect them to comply with them. A marine reserve is a fully protected area where you’re not allowed to fish,” Ham added.
“We can track the position of fishing vessels in real-time using GPS technology, so we were alerted when the vessel entered the marine reserve.”
Conservation group Greenpeace hailed the guilty verdict against the Nelson-based company.
Jessica Desmond, Greenpeace oceans campaigner, said the ruling “indicates an end to letting Talley’s get away scot-free, by using their employees as scapegoats.”
“What we have seen with Talley’s historically is a pattern of bad behaviour: repeated charges of their vessels illegally trawling in protected areas, followed by attempts to evade responsibility by blaming the skippers.
“We’re pleased that this time, Talley’s haven’t got away with it. We hope this indicates a change from MPI’s previous position, where they’ve stated they do not prosecute illegal activity by big fishing companies, as it will not change their behaviour, leaving these companies free to flout the law.”
This is the second case before the court for Talley’s this year where they have been charged with illegal trawling in a protected area. The other case involved the alleged illegal trawling of a marine protected area in the Tasman Sea by the Amaltal Apollo, Greenpeace said.
While Desmond favours the court’s decision, she says the real issue is that commercial fishing fleet should not be bottom trawling vulnerable ocean habitats, whether they’re officially protected or not.
“Bottom trawling is an incredibly destructive way of fishing that undermines the whole ocean system. When the bottom trawling nets are dragged across seamounts, enormous damage is done to slow-growing corals and everything else living there. Seamounts studied have shown no signs of recovery, even decades later.
“There is absolutely no doubt that bottom trawling damages these vital wildlife hotspots, which has a knock-on effect all the way up the food chain. We are in a biodiversity crisis, and we have to stop fishing this way if we’re to prevent further extinctions and ocean collapse.”
Amaltal considers appealing against guilty verdict
Amaltal spokesperson Tony Hazlett said the company will likely appeal the guilty verdict to a single charge under the Marine Reserves Act 1971. He added that the “company acted lawfully and liability for the actions of the skipper who mistakenly acted against company policy should not be attributed to the company.”
“Amaltal will likely appeal the judge’s ruling. Amaltal takes the sustainability of the marine environments where we fish seriously, and do not condone fishing in closed areas in any circumstances. That is why we provide thorough training and in-depth ongoing instruction of skippers and crew. This is our responsibility, and we did this for this skipper. We provided him with all the resources and equipment necessary for fishing lawfully, including maritime charts, copies of fisheries laws, regulations, electronic navigation equipment, and regular compliance training.”
Amaltal Fishing Co Ltd will be sentenced on a date to be set by the court.