It’s been a warm and pleasant summer for most of New Zealand, but do you remember how different it felt this time last year? Many places were reeling from the impacts of cyclones and floods.

It was an extremely difficult time for those affected – the amount of loss seemed insurmountable. We recognise that people are still recovering from these events and whole communities are working to rebuild.

In Hawke's Bay, Cyclone Gabrielle destroyed homes and lives and dumped tonnes of debris into East Coast fishing grounds. This was catastrophic for local fishermen of all types, but the commercial vessels were particularly hard hit. It became not just risky but dramatically unsafe for them to fish in the usual way, in waters that were full of hazards – underwater logs, building materials and even car parts. And these objects weren’t just a physical threat to safe fishing, they became a serious psychological threat as fishers took a huge financial hit from not being able to fish. That meant some were left not knowing if they would be able to continue, nor how to pay the bills.

This is where NIWE stepped in. The North Island Weather Event fund provided support to the Seafood New Zealand Inshore Council to complete a debris identification project using commercial fishing vessels and their equipment, to figure out where the debris and hazards were in the Hawke's Bay waters. Seafood New Zealand teamed up with Guard Safety, which managed the survey project that ran from mid-October 2023 through till the end of January this year. It has only just wrapped and reported back. And all indications are it has been a huge success.

Six vessels from Napier and Gisborne did the vessel surveys. They were paid by the fund to map the area for debris and the maps they produced look like a pin cushion of hazards. The photos show some of the huge chunks of tree hauled up in the fishing gear. The sonar images demonstrate how these hazards can sit like traps on the sea floor. 

It’s worth recording the names of the six vessels involved, not just because some of them are great names, but because they deserve credit for their work. FV Chips, St Jude, Torea II and Nancy Glen II worked out of Napier. Bartolo Zame and Giovannina were Gisborne-based.

The skipper of FV Chips, using sonar gear, found a significant number of “seafloor targets” ranging from “sticks” of one metre in length to logs of 20 metres. He said, “trawling this area, would have been catastrophic for net damage and lost time handling those dangerous targets. I was surprised at how many items were down there. It is no wonder St Jude and I had a difficult time in that area during the trawl survey work.”
Overall, the fishers said the project gave them confidence to get back on the water and that the project provided much needed funds to the vessel owner, skipper and crew and we are grateful for this.  
So what’s good here? There’s the financial support for struggling fishers. There’s the benefits of giving them a mission that helps others. There’s the work itself of course, which has produced the foundations for a safe fishing ground to work in. 
But the biggest benefit here may have been the collaboration. 
As well as our focus on good science here at Seafood NZ, we also bang the drum for positive collaboration a lot. The NIWE project is an example of how this can work. 
Six fishing vessels and crews, MPI, some much-needed Government funding, project management from Guard Safety and wellbeing support from the fantastic team at FirstMate, all working in concert. Crucially local recreational fishers were also supportive. That kind of back up is so important. 
We’ll leave you with this quote from the final report to consider: “Fishers have remained very positive about the experience and very complementary of MPI having the confidence to contract fishers for this project. Considering how private and public entities can continue to collaborate within the seafood sector should be a priority as it no doubt produces the best outcomes for all.”