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Industry takes a dive

Wairarapa company Splashzone fishes for about 35 tonnes of crayfish each year. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Outbreak impact felt in industries

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The effects of the coronavirus outbreak on Wairarapa’s commercial fishing industry “will knock some people out of the game”, says one commercial fisherman of more than 30 years.

Wairarapa-based Richard Kibblewhite, of Splashzone, said the effects of the crisis were “instantly” felt and he had already seen several boats for sale from struggling fishermen.

New Zealand is one of the world’s largest producers of crayfish for the Asian market.

Kibblewhite said the industry had shut down at a peak time for prices – boats had been brought back to shore as there was no point catching crayfish which could not be exported.

“There’s a huge financial cost to the cray industry.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of dollars which are not going to come into the community.

“We don’t know when we can go back to work.”

The 2002 Sars [severe acute respiratory syndrome] epidemic had hit the industry similarly, and it had taken several months, but prices had eventually bounced back, he said.

Kibblewhite estimated there was about $50 million worth of quota at stake nationwide, a good chunk of which was from Wairarapa.

The early shutdown meant many commercial fishers had yet to meet their total quota, and he estimated from 15 to 20 per cent of the allocated catch remained uncaught.

He said they had asked the government to roll over these quotas for next year, saying there wasn’t a sustainability issue as these were cray already allocated for catching.

“Fishermen don’t want a handout.

“We are happy working; we just want to be allowed to do it.”

In the interim, his crew had moved to wet fishing and catching lemonfish in Napier to export to Australia.

“It doesn’t compare, but it can make a wage,” he said.

The chief executive of the New Zealand Rock Lobster Industry Council, Mark Edwards, said they had been talking with the Ministry for Primary Industries and Fisheries New Zealand about how to mitigate the impacts of the crisis since the start of February.

“The measures included the return of lobsters to sea in a manner that ensured high survival rates and addressed any risks, and the availability of carry-forward provisions so that uncaught annual catch entitlement could be used in the next fishing year,” he said.

Edwards estimated there were about 70 tonnes of uncaught quota in Wairarapa, compared with about 400 tonnes nationally and 50 tonnes in holding pots at sea.

“If that 450 tonnes of unused catch entitlement can be landed and exported in a market where the prices have recovered, it will be worth over $50 million based on an average value of $115 per kilogram.”

Tony Craig, chairman of the Paua 2 Fisheries Association, said while the paua industry had also been hit, it wasn’t as dire as the crayfish industry.

The paua fishing year differed from that of crayfish which provided another window of opportunity later in the year.

He said about 75 per cent of the quota had been pulled out of the water before Christmas, but harvesting had been suspended and it was unclear when they would be able to resume.

The epidemic had also impacted other Wairarapa industries, including forestry and farming.

Logs at the Waingawa Industrial Hub. PHOTO/FILE


Forest Enterprises chief executive Bert Hughes said the demand for export logs from China was greatly reduced and log export markets were congested.

“This has led to cuts to harvesting across New Zealand, Wairarapa included.

“Forest owners in Wairarapa, like elsewhere, are making the very difficult decision about whether to suspend or reduce harvesting – either way, every part of the supply chain is affected.”

He said most forestry businesses were small operators, “so this is significant”.

“Some will be losing their livelihood. A third to a half of their revenue is being lost and they are at zero profit, making it extremely difficult for them to meet debt repayments and pay wages.

McCarthy Transport general manager Steve McDougall said things always slowed down over the Chinese New Year period, but the coronavirus outbreak had been a catalyst for a sudden drop in operations.

“At the end of the day, we can’t control what has happened,” he said.

“Our focus is to keep the infrastructure […] and keep our trucks running 24/5. We’ve still got to ensure domestic mills have enough volume to meet their orders.”

In Wairarapa, this included JNL, Davis Sawmill, Kiwi Lumber and Pan Pac Forest Products.

He said the industry would “come right”, but there was definitely an element of the unknown.

“We’ve been in business for 70 years.

“We’ve been through several periods of market uncertainty.

“As an industry, we will come out stronger, it’s just the time frame is unknown.”


In the farming sector, the coronavirus outbreak had come on the back of an extremely dry summer which had contributed to difficulty selling store stock.

PGG Wrightson Wairarapa area livestock manager Steve Wilkinson said store stock was still shifting but buyers’ interest was much lower.

“That’s due to a couple of things,” he said, “but the main one being the coronavirus outbreak having a major influence on the Chinese market and dry conditions across the lower North Island.”

He said this had created an oversupply and farmers were either finishing what they had or were not in a position to purchase.

Wilkinson said it was a tough time for farmers but one many were prepared for.


  1. surely there are other markets to sell crays too! Or is it that they won’t sell below $115kg? Don’t see dairy farmers withholding milk in the hopes of a better payout.
    Don’t rely on 1 market,

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