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Two New Tuna Boats Will Target Skipjack

Sanford Announces Major Expansion Into The Western Pacific
Two New Tuna Boats Will Target Skipjack

In a move which signals a major expansion of New Zealand's fishing interests into international waters, Sanford Limited today announced the $35 million acquisition of two large American, ocean-going, purse seine fishing vessels.

The 75 metre long craft carry a crew of 20, and are capable of staying at sea for weeks at a time, catching and freezing up to 1400 tonnes of fish products on board. Each boat has its own helicopter and the latest in fish finding technology, designed to help track schools of skipjack and other tuna as they migrate through the western and central Pacific.

"The vessels will be operating in Pacific waters for more than nine months a year but will visit their New Zealand base during the summer months when the skipjack are at the southern most part of their migration," says Sanford group managing director, Eric Barratt.

"They will be following the skipjack fishery throughout the Pacific and will land their catch at one of the various tuna canneries, ranging from Pago Pago (American Samoa), Fiji, Majuro (in the Marshall Islands), and other areas at different times of the season."

The hull of the larger of the two vessels was built in Italy and then moved to Norway and completed 12 years ago, while the other vessel is 7 years older but was recently refurbished and lengthened in Singapore. They have formed part of the American tuna boat fleet based in San Diego, California, in recent years.

The first vessel, previously named the Stella Maris, has been renamed the San Nikunau and will sail from Pago Pago, American Samoa, on its first fishing trip under Sanford ownership later this week. The other vessel, named the Chloe, will be renamed San Nanumea and will return to New Zealand for docking before sailing on its first fishing trip later in the year.

Mr Barratt says their purchase is not only a significant investment for Sanford, but also represents a major expansion of New Zealand's fishing interests into the important, international pacific tuna fishery.

"We are already liaising with a variety of foreign fishing agencies, seeking and finalising licensing arrangements within the fishing zones of various Pacific states," he says.

"We are also working in with the New Zealand Government, which recognises the importance of the various skipjack management regimes now adopted by most Pacific nations."

Those regimes include the South Pacific Regional Tuna Treaty; the work of the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency, which covers 16 countries including New Zealand; and the Palau Agreement, covering Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau and Papua New Guinea.

In April 1999 the parties to the Palau Agreement agreed to allow New Zealand fishing boats to be licensed for operation in their waters.

Subsequently, the same parties adopted the Federated States of Micronesia Agreement, although Mr Barratt hopes that this action will galvanise New Zealand to become a party to this new agreement.

According to the South Pacific Commission, which monitors tuna catches in the south west and central Pacific, skipjack tuna catches in the area have averaged 581,000 tonnes during the last 17 years, with landings ranging from a low of 310,000 tonnes to a high of 929,000 tonnes.

Skipjack represents the largest proportion of world tuna catches, with yellowfin tuna a distant second and big-eye tuna an even more distant third.

World-wide canned tuna production was almost 1.4 million tonnes in 1998, with the major markets being the USA, France, England, Germany and Asia.

During the last five years skipjack tuna prices have varied from a low of US$400 to a high of US$1050 per tonne. Earlier this year prices were about US$850 per tonne.

"Tuna is a very important seafood on many world markets," Mr Barratt comments.

"We do already catch skipjack tuna within our New Zealand fishing operations during the peak summer months, but nowhere near the scale of the western and central Pacific fisheries.

"Once the vessels are fully operational we expect them to add around NZ$25 million to our annual revenue, and with the experience and innovation of Sanford for returns to grow beyond that."

"Our decision to enter these additional fisheries will allow our company to further expand our horizons internationally, not just in catching operations, but also in reaching more global markets."


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