Sealord Group has been ordered to forfeit a $24 million vessel and fined $24,000 for bottom trawling in a protected area almost two years ago.

The fishing giant reported the breaches of the fishing regulations and the firm was sentenced in the Nelson District Court today on the basis that it had not deliberately trawled in a protected area, but that it had failed to take reasonable steps to avoid the offending, the Ministry for Primary Industries said.

The convictions resulted from a hoki fishing trip in late October 2018 on Sealord's commercial fishing vessel Ocean Dawn to the Chatham Rise, approximately 200 nautical miles east of Christchurch.

Four of the five trawls took place partially inside the Mid-Chatham Rise benthic protection area and the other was entirely within it.


Benthic protected areas are intended to protect vulnerable species on the seafloor. Seventeen areas were declared in 2007, protecting 1.1 million square-kilometres of seafloor.

"All bottom trawling and dredging is illegal in benthic protected areas," ministry compliance director Gary Orr said in a statement. "To ensure that fishing gear does not touch the bottom, trawling within 100 metres of the seabed is prohibited."

Orr said it is important that companies sending skippers to sea give them adequate training and provide sufficient oversight well after the vessel leaves the port.

Sealord chief operating officer Doug Paulin said that despite the incident being due to unintentional human error, the company pleaded guilty and was convicted as the offences under the Fisheries Act 1996 come with strict liability.

There was no financial benefit to the firm, as the proceeds were handed to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

"While we are disappointed with today's outcome, as we believe we did everything we reasonably could have done to prevent this incident occurring, we respect the court's decision," he said in a statement.

"As Ocean Dawn has been forfeited to the Crown, we will now apply to the court to have the vessel returned to us. In the meantime, we are permitted to use her in the normal course of our fishing operations."