Thursday, 12 December 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Fish factory closure marks the end of an era

More than 50 people, among them several Mercury Bay-based commercial fishermen and their families, gathered on Saturday evening last week at the Mercury Bay Bowling Club in Whitianga to farewell the Moana New Zealand fish factory in Whitianga.

Moana has recently decided to close the factory. All the export fin fish packing operations of the factory have been transferred to the Moana factory in Mt Wellington, Auckland. Five permanent jobs were lost in the process.

The closure of the factory brought the curtain down on four decades of history. It was this month 40 years ago that a company by the name of Ocean Products - with well-known Whitianga local, Jim Williscroft, at the helm - took over the old Whitianga fish factory in Coghill Street from financially struggling Table Top Seafoods.

The factory later-on relocated to the Moewai Park industrial area, close to the Whitianga Airfield.

Jim ended up managing the factory for more than 20 years. In 2002, the factory was sold to Moana.

Jim told everyone present on Saturday that fishing is not just an industry, it’s a passion that grips people of all backgrounds and all ages. “Some commercial fishermen are hunters, some are just happy when the deck is moving beneath their feet and the seabirds are screaming,” he said. “Some are skilled boatbuilders, some are conservationists and keen observers of the environment. A few are risk takers, not knowing when to stop. Many are innovators, endlessly searching for better ways to hone their skills. Most are down-to-earth, practical people, well-endowed with common sense and deeply concerned about fish stocks and the future of their industry.”

“But those who catch the fish are only part of the equation. There are those who unload the boats, drive the trucks and work in the factories ashore. There are those who work in the shops and supermarkets. There are others who spend their time matching fishing quotas with catches, juggling shortfalls and by-catches and those who regulate, make rules and monitor compliance. The common denominator is the passion for the industry and the need to talk fish.

“In this port, here in Whitianga, over the past 40 years, thousands of tons of seafood worth hundreds of millions of dollars have passed over the wharf. Over that time, thousands of people have been employed, catching, processing and marketing the catch from the waters around here. We have all played our part.

“There have been good times and bad, happy times and sad. In its heyday, prior to quotas being introduced, Whitianga was home at times to 15 trawlers, 40 scallop boats, numerous cray boats, longliners and gill netters. Friday was the big day for unloading, the pub was heaving and the bank manager was smiling.

“Innovation aboard vessels, in factories and just-in-time deliveries kept Whitianga at the forefront. Change is part of life and adapting to it and seizing the opportunities it presents will ensure a prosperous port for us all in Whitianga.”

Elisha Yahel, the Moana manager who had responsibility for the Whitianga fish factory, said on Saturday that the decision to close the factory had nothing to do with the performance of the commercial fisherman operating out of Whitianga. “It was a purely financial decision,” he said.

The last word on Saturday evening belonged to Don Bates, representing the Mercury Bay Bowling Club. “For 38 years Jim Williscroft and later Moana New Zealand have sponsored our annual Seafood Tournament,” he said. “Without their support, we would never have been able to hold the tournament. The tournament accounts for more than 10 per cent of our total turnover every year. It’s a very important event for us. The tournament is testament to Jim’s generosity. I want to say to Jim that he’ll always be welcome at our club.”

Pictured: Jim Williscroft (in the centre) with some of the people who worked closely with him when he managed the fish factory in Whitianga. From the left – Denis Conder, Bob Finnerty (on Jim’s right hand side), Bodhi Tohill (on Jim’s left hand side) and Peter Ratcliffe.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.