Wharf closure sparks fight fears

By John Cousins

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The closure of a commercial fishing wharf at Dive Crescent has prompted fears that frustrated fishermen will resort to violence at Tauranga's last remaining communal unloading wharf.

The council's decision to fence off the structurally unsound wharf leased to RMD Marine opposite the Foodbank has come as a blow to one of the company's owners, Roger Rawlinson.

"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," he said in reaction to the closure on January 25 of the Dive Crescent unloading wharf. Boats can still tie up to the wharf.

Mr Rawlinson said the council was counting on the development of the planned marine precinct at Sulphur Point, but it could be years away and something was needed now. The city had lost four unloading berths in five years.

"The council has not provided a decent berth for the fleet. If things do not pick up, there is talk of guys leaving town."

The last independent wharf, the Moana Pacific wharf at Sulphur Point, was used by everyone except Sanfords. Sanfords had their own nearby wharf.

Mr Rawlinson, who has managed the Moana Pacific wharf since Moana restructured, predicted tempers would fray when fishing boat skippers were told they could not unload until the next day because another boat had priority.

Simon Marshall of Maui Ocean Products said he could see it spilling over into a fist fight when boats wanted to use the wharf at the same time.

"People get emotional when their livelihoods are at stake."

He said the council was putting at risk a multi-million dollar industry in which about $20,000 was spent on fuel, ice, bait and provisions per fishing trip.

Council property manager Anthony Averill said they had no choice but to close the Dive Crescent wharf once the engineering report was received on it.

He said it was fair to say that there had not been a lot of investment in the commercial fishing sector. "The council has the land but not necessarily the funds to invest in that infrastructure."

Mr Averill said a decent long-term home for Tauranga's fishing fleet was something that needed to be found by the council.

Mr Rawlinson said RMD Marine had been shuffled along to the town's last unloading wharf which had to service about 20 boats plus other vessels. "That could double depending on the tuna and the weather."'

Mr Marshall said the council had taken millions of dollars over the years but failed to reinvest it back into wharf infrastructure for fishing boats. Once, Tauranga was the biggest port for landing tuna and now it was the smallest.

Mr Marshall said the wharf next to the Dive Crescent fish and chip shop was not strong enough and it was mainly used by charter boat operators since the council demolished Coronation Pier five years ago.

The plan to replace the pier had fallen through.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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