A local fishing company, along with its skipper and first mate, faced heft fines totalling $69,750 for their failure to assess and report coral caught in their net during bottom trawling operations in the South Pacific’s high seas.
The sentencing took place at the Nelson District Court, following a successful prosecution by the Ministry of Primary Industries.
Westfleet Fishing Limited, the fishing company involved, was fined $56,350 while skipper Stephen John Smith received a penalty of $7500 and first mate Nicolas James Taikato was fined $6000.
The charges brought against them were related to their failure to comply with the conditions of a high seas fishing permit under the Fisheries Act and Fisheries Regulations. Additionally, they were charged with neglecting to report multiple instances of coral or sponge caught in their fishing net.
As a result of the violation, the fishing vessel Tasman Viking was also forfeited to the Crown.
The incident occurred in October 2020 when the Tasman Viking, owned and operated by Westfleet Fishing Limited, set sail from Port Nelson to trawl outside of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Challenger Plateau and Lord Howe Rise. Fisheries New Zealand observers were present onboard the vessel to monitor and ensure compliance with regulations.
The vessel was fishing under a high seas permit issued by international agreement through the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO). New Zealand is a member country of SPRFMO, which collectively manages fisheries in the high seas throughout the South Pacific.
“All commercial fishers are required to hold a permit to fish the SPRFMO fishing area, and reporting organisms from the sea floor such as coral and sponges caught is an important requirement,” said Fisheries New Zealand regional manager of fisheries compliance, Howard Reid.
“The rules are agreed by the countries of the South Pacific and are there for a reason – to protect the ocean environment and prevent fishing from causing damage to vulnerable marine ecosystems on the seafloor.
“If the amount of bycatch from the sea floor reaches specified limits, fishing must immediately stop in that area.”
When the Tasman Viking hauled its net aboard on 21 October 2020, it contained a substantial amount of bamboo coral, which was not removed from the net, separated, and weighed by the crew as required by their high seas permit.
When the net was reshot about 15 minutes later, most of the coral was swept overboard. The Fisheries New Zealand observer weighed the small quantity that remained at 2.79kg.
“The threshold limit for bamboo coral is 15kg but due to the failure of the crew to remove and weigh all the coral, it was not possible to determine whether that limit had been exceeded and the skipper did not report the incident to MPI or SPRFMO through the normal channels, which is disappointing,” said Reid.