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From Deck Hand to Skipper, thanks to the support of crew and family

Brent Thomas

Brent Thomas started at Sealord nearly 30 years ago as a Deck Hand on the Shemara, a small purse seiner that caught mackerel and kahawai landing into the wet fish factory. He’d been working for other major fishing companies in New Zealand for some time before that.

It was a small crew of six on the Shemara. He really enjoyed that fishery. It was coastal and they’d work in conjunction with an aeroplane to help find the fish.

From there he went to the Sealord vessel Taimania, the sister ship to the Otakou, still as a Deck Hand, working Cook Strait and the East Coast within the 25NM, landing hoki to the Wetfish Factory. During his time there he progressed to First Mate.

He always learnt as much as he could and took any opportunity to progress so that one day he could be a skipper that worked the same Cook Strait and East Coast areas. He finally gained that chance with Sealord when the company bought the Aukaha, which he’d also been First Mate on prior to the position as Skipper. One great advantage with the Aukaha due to its length is that it can fish inside and outside the 25NM.

Brent says the role of skipper is a huge challenge, but he can’t stress enough how his job would be almost impossible without all the good crew and others that give support to the vessel. At the end of the day, it’s a team effort to the overall efficiency of the vessel.

“You’re only as good as the people you have around you and I’m grateful for all the colleagues I’ve learnt from over the years developing my skills for the role as a skipper for Sealord.”

He says to make the most of the opportunities given, people have to be willing to step up and learn, and sometimes get out of their comfort zone. “I’m still learning today and that’s what I like about the job - the day you stop learning is the day you probably should give up.”

The thing that initially attracted Brent to fishing was the teamwork. “Getting everything to run smoothly involves efficiency and safety, with everything happening in sequence, and that takes a real team effort.”

The biggest part of his job is planning – according to what the fish are doing, the weather, and a number of other considerations. Being prepared for situations to alter is important and always having a plan B up the sleeve is most important.

Technology has changed considerably since he first started fishing. In his early days on Sealord vessels he’d have a sounder, a compass, a radar, and a pair of binoculars. Modern technology helps make the crew more efficient and able to operate in a safer environment.

Brent says fishing today has many new challenges, especially the perception of how Sealord operates as a fishing company.  “It’s important we are perceived by others to be always acting responsibly and sustainably in the industry. Being crew of fishing vessels I’m sure we all get asked the same questions about what we do out there, and that’s always a good opportunity to give people who ask an understanding of how we operate responsibly and sustainably.”

Voyages on the Aukaha are anywhere from 16 days during hoki season, to 30 days in the off season. The crew have the occasional social outing when they get home, which helps the crew to get along together. That’s really important because a happy crew is a safe crew.

He’s now seeing people joining crews that are the sons or daughters of people he fished with in the days when he worked on deck, which he says is cool because it shows that Sealord is not only got a business with a history, but one that also has a promising future. Fishing has certainly worked well for his family, with a great balance of quality time spent at home. His two sons have grown up with Dad fishing and his wife supports his role as Skipper.

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