This week’s report is about the “joys” of being a charter fishing operator in Whitianga.
Charter fishing has definitely been a wild ride over the past few years for all of the operators here.
We have seen adversity, diversity, progress and non-progress .
To give an idea of what it takes to be a fishing charter operator here, I have set down a few facts. Consider the following:
1.Skippers must be qualified and hold a minimum qualification of a Skippers Restricted Limits Level 4 certification. This means the skipper must undergo and pass what is usually a 5 week training course which includes a minimum 200 hours of prior recognizable sea-time service and be able to pass a navigation, first aid, engineering, radio communications, sea survival and medical assessment (including eyesight and hearing) to obtain a 5 year certificate. They must pass a Maritime Fit and Proper Person requirement (which includes a Police check). They must maintain their sea service time (normally documented in individual vessel logs books), and prove these hours via declaration, called a Certificate of Sea Service. After 5 years, they must reapply for certification via Maritime New Zealand, a copy of this certification must be carried on board during every trip.
2.The vessels used for charters must be registered with Maritime New Zealand and be in current survey in accordance with the purpose they are serving i.e.passenger or non-passenger, freight etc. An independent marine surveyor will determine the limits of the vessel and its seaworthiness. This includes the area of operations, all safety equipment required to be carried on board, and the maximum number of people the vessel can take. This will give the operator a Vessel Survey Certificate which must be always displayed on board. Usually this certification is for 10 years and rechecked at 5-year intervals. With older boats, it can be more frequent.
3.The operator must produce and maintain an MTOP (Maritime Transport Operator Plan) In accordance with the type of work the vessel will be doing. This is the ‘boat bible’. It will list every safety precaution, every requirement the crew and passengers must adhere to or undertake while on board. It will list vessel maintenance requirements, vessel equipment carried on board, maintenance requirements and expiry replacement requirements of the equipment on board , safety requirements, crew training, emergency procedures, emergency contacts on shore and every required regulation needed to ensure a safe and risk-reduced operation of the vessel and business. This certification is audited by Maritime New Zealand every 2-3 years to ensure the operator is operating within the legal requirements. From this, every successful MTOP produces an MTOC (Maritime Transport Operators Certificate), which must be always displayed on board.
4.All skippers must record their catch. This includes all species caught, the approximate location, the combined weight of the catch via species, the type of fishing method used and the number of people actively fishing and the time spent fishing. These reports are submitted to the Ministry of Fisheries monthly.
So, it’s not just a case of buying a boat and taking a crowd fishing. There is a significant number of hoops to jump through before even getting on the water as a charter operator. It’s a highly regulated industry and for good reason. Recently we have seen some serious accidents resulting in considerable loss of life pertaining to charters. What we don’t see are the near misses that happen more often than we would think.
Contending with the above, we saw Covid wipe the industry out overnight. We hope those days are past us. As a result of an increase in the price of fuel and bait, some operators have had to put their daily rates up.
The issues with the wharf continue despite the Council’s seven-year plan. The wharf is often overcrowded. The closure of areas from fishing means that operators have to travel further at more expense. Despite these challenges we look forward to a good charter season post-Covid.