Dredging project vital to Greymouth’s expanding fishing industry

Published: Jul 22, 2019 · Updated: Dec 1, 2020

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In January this year, the Kawatiri Dredge crossed the Westport bar after completing the dredging of 90,000m3 of silt from Port of Greymouth’s Erua Moana Lagoon – and Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“We were in really big trouble before the dredging,” says Mr Kokshoorn. “The dredging was essential for fishing boats to continue to use the port. There’s a large fishing fleet that uses the lagoon and numbers increase significantly during the tuna and hoki season.

“Silt is carried along when the river floods and settles in the lagoon. It was so silted up, it was only a metre deep in places. The entrance was getting narrower and narrower, we were having to put out buoys, restricting entry and had got to the point that larger vessels could only cross the bar an hour either side of high tide.”

The dredging was primarily funded by $750,000 support from the Provincial Growth Fund (PFG) and carried out using the Buller District Council-owned Kawatiri.

It means the port now has at least four metres of draft throughout all channels, even at low tide. The Greymouth slipway is the only registered maintenance facility between Bluff and Nelson and dredging has already resulted in additional fishing vessels using the port and increased requests to bring in larger vessels for maintenance and survey.

“The PGF funding support was an absolute godsend and people round here are rapt about that,” says Mr Kokshoorn. “We are developing a major fishing port and to achieve that, you need vessels to be able to access the port and slipway. We were just hanging in there but we were at the eleventh hour.

“This has been a win-win for everyone. The fishing industry is very important to our community and people now have the confidence that it will continue to be viable here.”

The port has played an increasing role in the region’s economy. The fishing, aquaculture and seafood processing industry - including Talley’s Group and Westfleet - contribute more than 160 jobs to the Westland economy. There are also significant flow-on benefits from the fleet’s spend in the region.

“The West Coast has been through painful times,” says Mr Kokshoorn. “Ever since the Pike River disaster, the liquidation of Solid Energy and the collapse of coal prices, we have been working to transition from extractive industry to more sustainable industries - fishing, agriculture and tourism are our strong focuses.

“When I was growing up here, thousands of people worked in the mines – the port was built to move coal. Today, the coal goes by train and we only have 119 people working in mining and that’s for both gold and coal. It has been hard, people have had to re-adjust, miners have had to learn to do different jobs, but we are starting to turn the corner. Unemployment is down to 3.3% and GDP is up 2.2% for the year and, what is really exciting is that our population in the Grey District is starting to rise again.

“We have a very large number of permanent fishing vessels based here, plus the seasonal vessels and all of Westfleet’s catch is now processed in their new facility alongside the lagoon.”

NZ Federation of Commercial Fisherman Vice-President Allan Rooney, who operates a 46ft boat out of the harbour, echoes Mr Kokshoorn’s views.

“The PGF funding was absolutely a godsend,” he says. “The lagoon was so silted up that even small boats could only move around at half tide. It was hitting business and if it had got any worse, then some fishing businesses would have gone to other ports.
“When the bigger boats were in, there were big queues in the harbour to unload and then, if you missed the half tide to get out, you were doomed.”

Mr Rooney said the delays were impacting processors too.

“With the big boats, like the hoki teams, there is only a fairly short season. With people often not being able to get out of the harbour, they were not getting the same quantity of fish – but now it’s been dredged we can all get in and out freely.

“It’s very good to see the Provincial Growth Fund support for the West Coast. I’m a Greymouth boy and our forefathers built New Zealand really, with the timber, the coal and gold. This place had the guts sucked out of it for a while. Things are starting to come right and fishing is a big part of that.”

Franco Horridge, Port Team Leader for the Port of Greymouth, moved to Greymouth with his family ten years ago, after transferring as a police officer from the UK.

“The West Coast is a fantastic place to live,” he says. “People are so welcoming, it’s quiet, low-crime, a great place for kids to grow up – it’s a pretty happy place, but in our time here we have seen coal mining decline, a lot of people we had got to know moved away to find work. You could see the whole place running down, but now things are looking up; there are opportunities here, good businesses and one of the key reasons for that is the port. It feeds the fish processing industry here, but it’s very good for other business too.

“Every single boat that comes in needs to restock and refuel. Boats need engineering, electrical and mechanical support. There are the trucking companies that transport stuff, the boost to sales for supermarkets, shops and pubs. Everyone benefits.”

The council contributed $300,000 and Talley’s and Westfleet committed $50,000 each towards the full cost of the dredging project.

Mr Horridge says there was a great sense of relief in the community when the PGF support was announced.

“It’s been very good for local businesses. We are getting more vessels in and we have two additional large vessels now permanently based here. We’ve got a large slipway and now that it’s fully accessible, we are getting more requests for use of the slipway by larger vessels to come and do surveys or to get repair work done. That’s work for local businesses – and it’s all because these vessels can get in now.

“People were certainly letting me know what they thought about the silt issue before the dredging. It was a deterrent for the tuna and hoki vessels - large vessels were only able to manoeuvre around the high tide and that made things difficult for companies and for fishermen. Now vessels can use the port 24/7 – everyone’s pretty happy about that.”

Mr Horridge says there is increased optimism about the future among West Coasters.

“People used to say to me, ‘why would you choose to go and live on the West Coast?’ Now people are choosing to move here. The fishing industry is a big part of that. We needed an effective port and now we have one again – without the PGF , we would not have been able to achieve that.”

NZ Federation of Commercial Fishermen Vice-President Allan Rooney on a boat.

Allan Rooney, the NZ Federation of Commercial Fisherman Vice-President, says that PGF funding for the dredging in Greymouth was a “godsend”.