John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Tauranga fishermen fear being forced out of town

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Erika and Dan Harvey owners of a longliner with Redline Fishing say they are currently being forced to operate in unsafe conditions. PHOTOS/ANDREW WARNER
Erika and Dan Harvey owners of a longliner with Redline Fishing say they are currently being forced to operate in unsafe conditions. PHOTOS/ANDREW WARNER

Tauranga's independent commercial fishermen have succeeded in convincing the council to identify areas with the potential to build a new unloading wharf along the city's waterfront.

It follows a series of meetings between the council and members of the Harvey fishing family who were unhappy at the size of the area allocated to the independents in Sulphur Point's Marine Precinct.

At risk of leaving Tauranga were up to 70 fishing jobs and an annual catch worth $20 million.

Commercial fishermen who operated outside of the Moana Pacific and Sanford groups of companies had pinned their hopes on the information memorandum that went out to businesses interested in tendering for land in the first stage of the precinct.

The memorandum promised to provide facilities for loading ice and unloading fresh fish to meet the needs of the local fishing fleet. It said the precinct would also provide dedicated areas to allow truck access to the water's edge for unloading or servicing of fishing vessels.

But the Harveys argued that the council's solution fell well short of what was needed to keep more than 20 independents from leaving Tauranga.

The precinct plan identified how the ice wharf at Sulphur Point would become a communal user-pays unloading wharf, once the council's lease expired with Moana Pacific Fisheries in about six months. The wharf access through a 625 sq m block bordering Cross Rd would also be retained in council ownership.

There are over 20 fishing vessels that this Marine Precinct plan is pushing out of the region. We are the local fishing fleet that is being forgotten.
Dan Harvey

Fishing skipper Dan Harvey, owner of longliner Royal Salute, argued that the ice wharf only provided five metres of truck to boat space compared to Whangarei's 490 metres, Napier's 400 metres, Gisborne's 286 metres, Coromandel's 100 metres and Whakatane's 80 metres.

He said they were down to one wharf for all commercial boats to do work where it was relatively common to see boats queued waiting to unload their catches.

Mr Harvey said there was no unloading wharf.

"There is an ice and fuel wharf that everyone has to use for unloading...our biggest problem is that we need more space to take stuff on or off our boats. We are being forced to operate in unsafe conditions just to unload our catch or to put gear on our boats."

He said the precinct plan still did not allow for an unloading wharf.

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"There are over 20 fishing vessels that this Marine Precinct plan is pushing out of the region. We are the local fishing fleet that is being forgotten."

Another fisherman Karl Mattock of the Sea Prophet who was yesterday forced to unload his catch of crayfish across Mr Harvey's boat Royal Salute, said the situation was disgusting. "This is the one and only usable wharf.''

The fishermen's grievances became one of the last issues to be dealt with by Stuart Crosby before he stepped down as mayor.

Mr Crosby said he supported making suitable provisions for the independent fishermen.

"My view was that the original concept was light on providing for their interests."

He accepted there was a need for more wharfside access to fishing boats, even though the current plan did include a communal area for loading and unloading. "They were never going to end up with nothing."

Mr Crosby instructed staff to see what could be done to provide more unloading wharves both inside the precinct and on the town side of the harbour bridge. "What they won't get is a large amount of wharfside access."

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Options identified for two additional berths were along the harbourfront between the ice wharf and Cross Rd, and extending the wharf further towards the Cargo Shed behind Maui Ocean Products in Dive Crescent.

Erika Harvey said most independent fishermen thought they would not have to tender because they assumed their needs would be adequately catered for in the precinct.

A big part of the problem was that land neighbouring the ice wharf had been sold down to the water's edge, rather than leaving the waterfront in council ownership. "If you sell to the water's edge, you lose that space forever."

Mrs Harvey said independent fishermen felt they were being squeezed out of Tauranga, with the potential loss of 70 jobs and $20 million a year worth of catch.

The Harveys found an ally in Western Bay District councillor Margaret Murray-Benge who helped put their case to the city council.

She said the communal space provided in the precinct for the small but successful fishing businesses was pathetic compared to other North Island towns.

"It is amazing what these small fishing businesses are achieving. Dan Harvey had a chef who owns a Michelin restaurant in Singapore out fishing with him. The chef was stunned by the quality of the fish and the sustainable way it was caught," she said.

Tauranga Harbour Marine Precinct
- $11.4 million project
- Base for boat building and refit businesses
- 6200 sq m hardstand vessel storage area
- A new seawall
- A 350-tonne vessel hoist

- Bay of Plenty Times

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