Cheyanne Amai couldn’t be at the Seafood NZ Seafood Star Awards event in August 2022, to receive due praise for her Young Achiever Award win.

The West Coast was experiencing severe weather and flooding; Amai stayed at home in Westport where she could be on hand for any emergency response needed in her role as branch manager of Talley’s Westport fish processing factory.

This is a good example of the professional and community responsibility that impressed the awards judges and have seen Amai’s career rocket from the factory floor at age 16 to her management role 11 years later. 

Amai was ambitious from the get-go. “I was 100% about working my way up through the ranks, always thinking ‘where to from here’,” she says.

Now the branch’s first female manager, Amai has been in the job since May 2022 and is loving it. She wants young people in Westport and elsewhere on the West Coast to know that there are good jobs available both on the sea and land.  She wants them to know, while they’re still at school, that there is money to be made and good career prospects if they have the confidence to give it a go.

“When I was that age, we wanted to get into work and make money. We have some school leavers in the factory doing an awesome job now but one of my goals is to bring in more people – especially for the hoki season and I’d love to see local people in these jobs,” Amai says.

Amai is a true West Coaster, growing up in Westport and feeling blessed to have her whānau living close by. She finds it easy to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

“It’s beautiful here, with lots of outdoorsy things to do. You can get on your bike, to the beach and there are lots of good walking tracks.”

There’s some good fishing too of course, and a boat is on Amai’s wish list.

It’s a small community and besides being a big employer, Talley’s is a valued sponsor for community events and initiatives – ranging from the opening of the new Kawatiri Coastal Trail to regular support for the local bowling club.

Amai is proud to get involved and doesn’t mind talking to people about her work afterhours. She hopes to inspire young people and show that managers can be approachable and trustworthy.

Amai earned the trust of the team she leads now during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns when she was 2IC and when people were worried and unsure about the threat of COVID-19, the effects on their work, and about things like vaccination. Talley’s held lots of factory floor meetings and tried to support staff as individuals.

“We bonded, for sure. Our factory staff were essential workers, and we kept the factory going. We didn’t know what was going to happen with COVID-19 and people were fearful for their health and their families health so we kept the communication lines open and made room for emotions,” Amai says.

COVID-19 is still a worry but now the cost of living is also hitting hard. As a manager, Amai sees the opportunity to help ease the pressure in her hometown – by keeping the factory running as efficiently as possible, by seeing opportunities to expand and by encouraging local people into vacancies.