A year on from Cyclone Gabrielle and Hawke’s Bay’s commercial fishers are still dealing with lost grounds, but the situation isn’t as bad as was first expected.

FirstMate’s general manager of operations Darren Guard said Hawke’s Bay’s commercial fishers lost upwards of 40% of some fishing grounds to seabed hazards, i.e. debris.

“They are fishing cautiously in restricted grounds but are more confident of where they can safely fish,” Guard told BayBuzz.

“Stocks are looking better than expected so that’s positive, but still waiting to see if there are any long-term impacts from the huge amount of silt on the fishing grounds as we don’t know if this could impact their breeding cycle.”

Darren Guard

Guard also updated BayBuzz on a project, which commenced in October 2023, to help identify debris fields safely and carefully and mark the positions so debris and hazard maps could be created.

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) provided funds to the Seafood New Zealand Inshore Council through the North Island Weather Event Fund to undertake a debris identification project using commercial fishing vessels and their fishing equipment to locate seabed debris and hazards.

He said the project “was a very successful collaboration between MPI and the fishing industry”.

“Using Gabrielle-impacted fishers to fish for logs and use of some fishing vessel sonar they have identified approximately 200 seabed hazards on Napier and Gisborne fishing grounds,” he said.

“The commercial fishing vessel surveys ran from mid-October 2023 through till the end of January 2024. Basically, this was a global first project and proved very successful. This largely was due to industry and government collaborating when it mattered, and we hope this model of collaboration is used more frequently, not just after natural disasters.”

He added the project had given fishers more confidence to fish in areas thought to be “un-fishable” pre-project.

There were six vessels involved in the project and about 12 to 14 fishers.

“Project was very beneficial and provided much needed funds to the vessel owner, skipper and crew and we are grateful for this,” he said.

“Fishers now have reduced anxiety and feel less vulnerable when going fishing.”

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