James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Rena oil spill: Worry on the rise among Bay fishers

25 fishing operations were affected by the exclusion zone. Photo / Alan Gibson
25 fishing operations were affected by the exclusion zone. Photo / Alan Gibson

Maketu cray fisherman Butch Waterhouse looks out at the ocean he's fished for the past 30 years with a growing sense of worry.

Mr Waterhouse is one of several Bay of Plenty fishermen who cannot fish their normal spots because of an exclusion zone implemented soon after the Rena crashed into the Astrolabe Reef on October 5.

The zone centres on Motiti Island and extends from Tauranga to Matata and out 45km. Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley said it was imposed to reassure the domestic and export market that no tainted fish were coming from the area affected by the oil slicks.

It was also to protect boats from the 20-plus unaccounted-for containers of the 88 that had fallen from the ship.

But Mr Waterhouse said there was some confusion among local fishermen about the exclusion zone.

"We don't know whether it's oil-related or safety-related so we are waiting with bated breath that the water quality is fine and the fish stock is fine so we can start landing."

He said October to December were his peak months for catching crayfish but there were concerns about the water quality and the possible long-term effect of the oil slick on fish stock, as 95 per cent of Mr Waterhouse's haul goes to China as live exports.

He was also concerned about the future of his three crew, who depended on the catch for their wages.

"We are doing our best to ride it through and will give them something for the next week or so but after that we will need to find some way to get some funds into them."

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason said fishing contributed $24 million annually to the local economy.

The chamber was working with the Ministry of Social Development to develop recommendations around a potential assistance package and was to discuss the issue with Prime Minister John Key today.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said he could not say what compensation would be offered to affected businesses and when, but any package would likely be tailored to suit them.

"It's just a case of piecing together the information. There's got to be equity."

Brian Kiddie, president of the Tauranga Commercial Fishermen's Association, said 25 fishing operations were affected by the exclusion zone.

He said they would be approaching the Tauranga Harbourmaster about a reduction in the exclusion zone's size.

"These are 25 operations that are directly affected from complete exclusion to major inconvenience."

There were no immediate signs of contaminated fish from local fishermen. "There's this perception that fish are living in oil which is not quite true because oil basically floats on top and across the water."

- NZ Herald

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