Two huge announcements last week paint a clear picture of a strong, confident commercial seafood sector.

On 13 September the Commerce Commission approved Moana New Zealand’s acquisition of Sanford’s Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) for most of its North Island inshore quota, through a new long-term lease agreement. This will make Moana the largest inshore fisheries company in operational terms.

Two days later, Sealord announced its agreement to acquire privately-owned Independent Fisheries in what will be the largest financial transaction in our sector since the ‘Sealord deal’ in 1992 (part of the Māori Treaty Settlement).

These are big waves, set in motion by our own sector. Such self-made waves are remarkable at a time when we are all working hard to keep heads above water during a deluge of election year pledges and policy development.

Waves have an impact of course, so let’s look at how the companies explain what the deals will mean for Māori.

Moana CEO Steve Tarrant says the Commerce Commission’s approval for Moana to take on Sanford’s ACE is an incredible milestone for all iwi who own stakes in the company.

“This additional capacity provides opportunities for Māori beyond just fishing. It brings scale which will enable investment in innovation and science that align with our values of kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga.”

For Sealord, the purchase of Independent Fisheries is based on a strong belief in the ability to deliver increased returns to Sealord’s shareholders, half of whom are iwi, says Sealord Board Chair Jamie Tuuta.

“Māori have a strong affinity with the moana, kaimoana and fishing. The fisheries settlement allocating iwi ownership of quota, including through the purchase of 50 per cent of Sealord, underpins that cultural value system. This transaction grows iwi quota ownership, enhancing our strong connection with the moana in Aotearoa.”

So how will the wave hit the frontline? What do the deals mean to our hardworking fishers, factory processing workers, skippers and crew?

Sealord CEO Doug Paulin warmly welcomes Independent Fisheries’ 500+ employees to the Sealord whānau, acknowledging the strong family-based culture built by founder Charles Shadbolt. Not only will the whānau grow, the company’s assets will increase by approximately 46,000 metric tonne of quota, two owned and one chartered deepwater factory fishing vessels and a cold storage facility.

As described by Independent Fisheries Managing Director Mark Allison, the deal provides excellent opportunities for the existing staff to grow with the Sealord Group. And the benefits extend to customers and suppliers through streamlined catch plans, logistics and innovation.

For Moana kaimahi, the Sanford acquisition will see them take over the catching, processing and selling of fish, using the additional ACE, for at least the next 10 years. Steve Tarrant describes the acquisition as a milestone for kaimahi, and like Doug Paulin he warmly welcomes some of the Sanford staff to Moana whānau.

“This is an exciting time to be in the kaimoana and kai ora industry, and I want to acknowledge the Commerce Commission, and the teams at Moana and Sanford, respectively, who have worked tirelessly over the past few months to get us to this point.

“Moana is exceptionally well placed to take on the additional catch and processing volumes with a proven track record of success in inshore operations, perishable goods supply chain management, with upgraded facilities built with growth in mind.”

There is a clear theme of respect, optimism, and an appetite for growth throughout the company announcements last week. 

In putting the spotlight on big news, we are not ignoring the harder realities of everyday fishing. Let’s be clear – the commercial seafood sector is not always smooth sailing. Even now, the effects of cyclone Gabrielle continue to hurt east coast fishers and their communities and that’s far from the only challenge facing our fishers this year.

There is inherent risk in any acquisition of this scale. Some of the reaction from commentators in the media has focused on the issues of fleet renewal, and about how more quota does not always equal more income. 

Yes, there is work to be done but New Zealanders can see these two recent announcements as evidence of strength and positivity in the industry.  There are good things happening out there.