Sealord vessel Ocean Dawn inadvertently trawled in a Benthic Protected Area in the South East Fishery Management Area between 26 - 28 October 2018.
Sealord Chief Operating Officer Doug Paulin said 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.
Paulin says that despite the incident being caused by unintentional human error on-board, and the significant measures in place to prevent such incidents, the company pleaded guilty and was therefore convicted because the relevant offences under the Fisheries Act 1996 are strict liability offences.
“At Sealord we pride ourselves on doing the right thing, and we deeply regret that this incident happened. Sealord fully cooperated in MPI’s investigations and completed our own internal investigation to better understand how this mistake occurred.
“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. This technology was not available at the time. The Court recognised the efforts made by Sealord to ensure compliance and took this, amongst other things, into account in substantially reducing the fines imposed.
“It is extremely important to us that we do all we can to ensure we learn from, and do not repeat, this mistake,” Mr Paulin says.
“While we are disappointed with today’s outcome, as we believe we did everything we reasonably could have done to prevent this incident occurring, we respect the Court’s decision. The Court referred to Sealord as a ‘giant in the industry in which it operates’, and with that comes an expectation that we will be held to the highest possible standards. As Ocean Dawn has been forfeited to the Crown, we will now apply to the court to have the vessel returned to us. In the meantime, we are permitted to use her in the normal course of our fishing operations.”
Paulin adds that there was no financial benefit derived by Sealord from the incident, as the proceeds were handed to the Ministry for Primary Industries.