A Nelson fishing company, skipper and first mate have been fined a total of $69,750 for failing to assess and report coral caught in their net when bottom trawling on the South Pacific high seas.
Westfleet Fishing Limited was fined $56,250, skipper Stephen John Smith, 47, was fined $7,500 and first mate, Nicholas James Taikato, 30, was fined $6,000 when they were sentenced in the Nelson District Court today following a successful prosecution by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
They faced charges under the Fisheries Act and Fisheries Regulations for failing to comply with the conditions of a high seas fishing permit and failing to report multiple instances of coral or sponge caught in the net. The fishing vessel Tasman Viking (pictured) was also forfeited to the Crown.
In October 2020, the Tasman Viking, owned and operated by Westfleet Fishing Limited, left Port Nelson to trawl outside New Zealand’s EEZ in the Challenger Plateau and Lord Howe Rise. Fisheries New Zealand Observers were also aboard the vessel.
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,” says 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,” he said.
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 Mr Reid.
MPI encourages people to report suspected illegal activity through the Ministry’s 0800 4 POACHER number (0800 476 224).