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Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

Commercial fishing company Sanford Limited (Sanford), has been ordered to forfeit a $20 million vessel and fined $36,000 for bottom trawling in a restricted area.

The charges relate to fishing in the Puysegur Benthic Protection Area, west of Stewart Island, which is closed to bottom trawling activity.

Sanford was convicted on 3 representative charges. Vessel master Grant Clifford Walker, 51, was convicted on 2 representative charges and fined $11,250. First mate William Dessiou Lash, 46, was convicted on one representative charge and fined $5,400.

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

The convictions resulted from fishing trips in 2017 and 2018 targeting orange roughy on Sanford’s commercial fishing vessel, San Waitaki, which was found to have illegally bottom trawled in the Puysegur Benthic Protection Area (BPA).

Mr Walker was in control of the vessel during 8 trawls and Mr Lash was in control of the vessel during 4 trawls.

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

The offending in 2017 was detected through manual monitoring as the electronic monitoring system was not in place at that time.

The fishing activity reports record each individual trawl, recording time and position when the trawl net reaches fishing depth and again when it leaves fishing depth.

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 $5,280.

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