Sanford ordered to forfeit $20m vessel, fined $36k for bottom trawling in restricted area

 The commercial fishing company was convicted on three representative charges.
The commercial fishing company was convicted on three representative charges. Photo credit: File / Getty

Fishing company Sanford has been ordered to forfeit a vessel worth $20 million and fined $36,000 for bottom trawling in a restricted area.

The company's vessel the San Waitaki was found to have illegally bottom trawled in the Puysegur Benthic Protection Area, west of Stewart Island, during 2017 and 2018, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said in a statement on Tuesday.

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

Walker was in charge of the vessel during eight trawls and Lash during four trawls, MPI said.

The illegal trawling in 2018 was detected via MPI's electronic monitoring system, which tracks the location of the entire commercial fishing fleet in near real-time, while the 2017 incidents were detected through manual monitoring.

The Puysegur Benthic Protection Area is closed to bottom trawling to protect marine biological life that could be damaged through such activity.

MPI said the vessel chart plotter did not show the Puysegur Benthic Protection Area as a restricted area, and the court found the company did not take all reasonable steps to ensure the master and first mate were aware of the restrictions.

"Mistakes such as this simply should not happen," said MPI's national manager of fisheries compliance Steve Ham.

"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.

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

Ham said proceeds from the sale of fish taken from the area in 2018, which amounted to $150,720, were also forfeited, along with fishing equipment valued at $5,280.

He said the company fully cooperated with the investigation and have since implemented new systems.