Foreign vessel crew accused of hoki dumping

Crew members videoed hoki being illegally dumped at sea by a foreign trawler in a "classic over-fishing scenario," the Crown is alleging in a six-week trial that began in Christchurch District Court today.

Three Polish crew members on the Maltese-registered trawler Atria face charges arising from catching more fish than could be handled and spoiled fish being disposed of at sea.

Vessel master Josef Eugeniusz Popowicz, factory manager Wlodzimierz Pierzchlinski and foreman Janusz Miroslaw Josefiak are accused of fish dumping.

Popowicz is also charged with three counts of failing to correctly record the fish caught under quota on the Chatham Rise in the east coast hoki grounds on a voyage from May to July last year. The trio, who have returned to New Zealand to stand trial, have denied all the accusations.

The Crown plans to call 34 witnesses.

In an hour-long crown opening, Tim Mackenzie told Judge Michael Crosbie that the Atria was a 95m stern trawler, registered in Malta but using Lyttelton as its base while it worked in New Zealand waters. It had a crew of 60.

It was operated in New Zealand by Raudal Fishing Ltd of Hamilton.

He said that to maximise returns, it was necessary to keep the factory ship supplied with fish to process while at sea.

The factory operation involved sorting the fish for processing into fillets or mince, sorting it for fish meal, and the Crown said the Atria had a third option of returning it to the ocean unused.

Several crew members witnessed the discarding of the fish and one crew member filmed it.

Hoki needed to be processed quickly because it deteriorated rapidly and turned to mush.

Mr Mackenzie said on the Atria's next voyage, a Ministry of Fisheries observer was aboard, and a crewman asked to speak to her privately. He then told her of the dumping that had been going on.

A copy of the video -- taken on a crewman's cellphone camera -- was provided to the investigating officer. A second crew member also filmed the alleged dumping.

Mr Mackenzie said a crewman estimated that he saw about two bunkers of fish being dumped. Each bunker can contain six to eight tonnes of fish.

The boat would simply rid itself of the fish that had spoiled so that it could begin filleting the fresher, firmer fish that had just been caught.

"The informant's case is that this is a classic overfishing scenario," Mr Mackenzie said.

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