A distraught fishing-boat crew returned to port yesterday after a colleague was lost overboard.
He was the third to die in a commercial maritime accident this year, Maritime New Zealand said.
The body of the Hawke's Bay man - identified as Kevin Thompson - was recovered almost five hours after he was reported missing. Sad friends paid their respects online, one writing on Facebook that he had been "lost to Tangaroa", while another called him "a top man".
Thompson, thought to be in his 30s, had been working on the Hawkes Bay Seafoods vessel Jeanette. The skipper took police on a walk-through of the boat yesterday morning as the local fishing community began mourning.
"It's just one of those horrible accidents," a local fisherman said. "But at least they got him back, which is a real positive. I don't think anyone saw him fall over."
Napier deputy mayor Faye White said Thompson lost his life in "tragic circumstances" and her thoughts were with his family and the community.
Napier councillor Rob Lutter said: "The local fishing community is very small and it's a very tight-knit group and I'm sure they'll be fully supporting the family of this man."
Hawkes Bay Seafoods company director Joe D'Esposito said he was awaiting further information. His brother Nino declined to comment.
Coastguard skipper and duty manager Neil Daykin was alerted at 3.40am to reports of a person lost overboard just off Napier.
A search was organised, involving police, a rescue helicopter, a Coastguard aeroplane and half a dozen private boats.
"There was a huge number of crew involved as well as members of the public in private vessels," Daykin said.
The Coastguard air patrol spotted Thompson's body in the water about 8.30am. Police said he had drifted about two nautical miles.
Eastern district police communications manager Kris McGehan said the case was being treated as an accidental drowning.