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Sealord ordered to forfeit $24 million vessel for bottom trawling in protected area

Sealord has today been ordered to forfeit a $24 million fishing vessel for bottom trawling in a protected area.

Sealord's Ocean Dawn fishing trawler Source: Sealord

The company was also ordered to pay a $24,000 fine in Nelson District Court for trawling in a Benthic Protected Area.

In 2007, the Government says it closed 17 separate Benthic Protection Areas within New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, comprising 1.1 million square kilometres, to dredging and bottom trawling.

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, the protected areas protect large areas of mostly pristine marine environment.

"These marine landscapes are home to spectacular underwater mountains, valleys, geysers, and muddy flats and are protected through industry agreed measures," MPI says in a press release.

Sealord vessel master Bolen Terric Goomes was fined $7500 and first mate Thomas Adrian Pope was fined $5000, MPI reports.

They were convicted on one representative charge each, relating to five trawls for the company, three trawls for the skipper and two trawls for the first mate. 

"The convictions resulted from a hoki fishing trip on Sealord’s commercial fishing vessel Ocean Dawn to the Chatham Rise, approximately 200 nautical miles east of Christchurch, within New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone," MPI says.

The offending was first detected on October 29, 2018 by MPI. The Ministry says it relates to to five trawls that occurred during 26 October - 28 October 2018 and Sealord also self-reported the offence.

According to MPI, The quantity of sponges reported caught as by catch by Sealord in the five illegal trawls was 1300kg.

Approximately 40,000kg of fish was caught during the five trawls. Some of this fish was caught inside the Benthic Protection Area.

In addition to the vessel Ocean Dawn being forfeit, the proceeds from the sale of the entire catch taken in the five offending trawls is also forfeit which amounts to $1,12294.13.

"Sealord Group Limited can make an application to the courts for relief from the effects of forfeiture in relation to the vessel," MPI says.

In a statement, Sealord says the trawling incident was "caused by unintentional human error on-board."

According to Sealord Chief Operating Officer Doug Paulin: "As soon as the vessel realised this error, fishing operations were stopped and the incident was reported to Sealord management, who immediately self-reported to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

“An internal review has been held and some minor amendments have been made to processes.

"The advance of technology since the incident has allowed Sealord to adopt new geo-fencing technology (alarms) on board the vessel, which is a significant operational defence for such an error ever occurring in the future."

Sealord says it will continue to operate the Ocean Dawn vessel while an appeal process is underway to stop it being forfeited to the Crown permanently.