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Hot summer a fishing boon for Sanford,
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Thousands of feet below, the largest vessel in Sanford’s Pacific tuna fleet, the 80m San Nikunau,
cards agaist humanity, has come into view amid the dark blue expanse of the Tasman Sea.
As the chopper descends towards the boat, Barratt the NZX listed company’s managing director says it’s been three years since he last paid a visit to a vessel at sea.
«This year the weather is right and the fishing is right,» he explains.
While the summer’s hot, dry weather has hit farmers hard,
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And prices for skipjack are at a record high of $2700 a tonne, he says.
Barratt says Sanford is on track to land about $25 million worth of the fish in this New Zealand season.
That will be around twice the value of last year’s catch.
«There is some good news out there in terms of the drought,» Barratt says.
The San Nikunau’s helipad is bouncing up and down on the swell and after couple of hair raising aborted attempts the pilot manages to set the Eurocopter down.
The transition from downtown Auckland to a fishing vessel at sea, in the space of one hour, is surreal.
We’re almost 50 miles off New Plymouth and the only land visible is the top of Mt Taranaki. There’s an odd smell on board a combination of salty fishing nets, fuel and the capsicums that are being roasted up for lunch in the galley.
Last year Sanford was convicted in the United States on a number of charges including discharging waste water from the vessel into American Samoa’s Pago Pago harbour without using an oily water separator, which separates oil from bilge water before it’s discharged overboard.
The San Nikunau’s former chief engineer, James Pogue of Idaho, was also found guilty on two charges relating to the upkeep of oil record books.
At the sentencing in January Sanford was fined US$1.9 million ($2.27 million) and ordered to pay a further US$500,000 to a US fishing foundation.
While waiting for the helicopter to arrive at the Mechanics Bay heliport, Barratt revealed the one regret he has about the Pago Pago case.
Well before Sanford was indicted,
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«They said, ‘Give us three million and we’ll walk away’.»
Sanford declined the offer, choosing to instead fight the case in the American courts.
In retrospect, Barratt says the company should have taken the offer when it had the chance, but accepting such a deal was «just not our culture».
«We didn’t believe we were guilty,» he says.
Barratt, who will leave Sanford at the end of 2013 after 15 years at the helm of the Auckland based fishing company, says the court case was «an absolutely stressful process».
Following a safety briefing Barratt takes us on a tour of the vessel which, along with the two other tuna purse seiners in Sanford’s fleet, has gone through a major refit since the court case.
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