Commercial fishing company Sanford Limited has been ordered to forfeit a $20 million vessel and fined $36,000 for bottom trawling in a Benthic Protect Area, west of Stewart Island.

Benthic Protected Areas are closed to protect marine biological life susceptible to damage by bottom trawling activities.

Sanford’s commercial fishing vessel, San Waitaki, was found illegally bottom trawled by Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) in the Puysegur Benthic Protection Area (BPA).

The vessel master, Grant Clifford Walker, was in control during eight trawls and first mate William Dessiou Lash was in control during four vessel trawls. Both have been convicted and fined $11,250 and $5400 respectively.

The 2018 offending came to light as a result of MPI’s electronic monitoring system, which tracks the location of the entire commercial fishing fleet in near real time. The system alerts them when vessels enter areas that are restricted or prohibited.

Sanford’s vessel chart plotter did not show the Puysegur BPA as a closed area to bottom trawling. The court found that the company did not take all reasonable steps to ensure the master and first mate of the San Waitaki were aware of the closed area prior to either fishing trip.

MPI’s national manager fisheries compliance, Steve Ham, says as responsible operators, it is vital that fishers are aware of the restrictions.

“Mistakes such as this simply should not happen. It’s important that companies ensure their people are given adequate training and resources so they know where they can and cannot fish. Benthic Protection Areas and other closed areas must be loaded onto vessel chart plotters.

“Bottom trawling in protected areas damages the ocean floor, as well as marine ecosystems and the biodiversity they support.

“We expect 100% compliance with the relevant legislation and will take appropriate action where a breach of the legislation is detected.

“The proceeds from the sale of fish taken in the Puysegur Benthic Protection Area in 2018 amounting to $150,720 were also forfeit along with fishing equipment valued at $5280.

“The company cooperated fully with the investigation and have since implemented new systems.”

In a Facebook post, Sanford released a statement saying they accept the judge’s decision.

“We are very sorry about what happened and disappointed in ourselves.”

The company added that at the time of offending, “the San Waitaki was using electronic charts that did not outline the small BPA area. It was human error that the charts were not updated as they should have been.”

The company has since put systems in place to minimise the risk of this happening again, the statement said.

“We will work constructively to expeditiously address the matter of forfeiture. In the meantime, Sanford will work with MPI to ensure the vessel remains operational until the matter is resolved.”

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