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Boats fully laden with hoki are sitting offshore waiting for space at the wharf because the lagoon is too shallow in places, and four boats have run aground in the lagoon in the past two weeks. Greymouth fishing industry leaders say the Grey District Council is in denial and needs to "face facts" and pay for the Blaketown lagoon to be properly dredged, because it is so impassable that boats are having difficulty getting from the fishing wharf to the Blaketown side.
Westfleet manager John Brown said the state of the lagoon made things "tight" as the busy hoki season was in full swing and the pressure was on to get fish offloaded quickly and through its factory.
It was also potentially dangerous with vessels trying to squeeze through.
"It’s more logistical rather than close calls, with a certain amount of time to get it [hoki] caught and we have to work two hours on either side of the tide," Mr Brown said.
Talley’s Greymouth manager Jeff Drake said it was frustrating that boats had to line up offshore from Greymouth while waiting for space alongside the wharf, with about a two-hour opportunity either side of the high tide.
Last month Talley’s received a resource consent and put a digger to work to do the job itself, scooping out the silt build-up in front of its wharf.
Mr Drake said he was appalled at Mayor Tony Kokshoorn’s response to the situation.
"It’s really unfortunate that the mayor, who is also in charge of the port, hasn’t really championed the cause," he said.
Fishing was a critical growth industry and the council should be running it with "real vision" for the port.
"The mayor is in denial over this bloody port. It [fishing] is one of the few industries that’s growing, primary or otherwise, on the West Coast."
Mr Drake said Talley’s had "worn the cost" at this point of the recent silt clean-out.
"It’s worked fantastically well for us and has certainly made an improvement." But it was only a short-term fix.
Talley’s was dealing with up to five large vessels a day and up to 15 smaller ones.
The ongoing lack of dredging of the port was now affecting local businesses and employment, and four fishing boats had run aground in the lagoon in the past 15 days at potentially huge cost.
At least 20 local fishing businesses were at stake, and for years the council had been telling them "to be patient" over the dredging, he said.
No-one had time to be steaming to Nelson to dry-dock boats to check for propeller damage from grounding, and repairs and time lost possibly ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mr Drake said.
"If you look at it in perspective, with 20 businesses in town, and told them you can only run three to four hours a day, there would be an outcry."
After three years the small dredge bought second-hand by the council was "clearly inadequate" and seemed to break down almost every other week.
"A working dredge would be nice because this one is an absolute waste of time. I think the council should face facts and understand it’s not fit for purpose," Mr Drake said.
Mr Brown said the lack of effective dredging was impacting right down the line, through to jobs at the Greymouth fish factory, and the logistics of transporting fish to Sealords in Nelson.
Talley’s was in "a worse predicament" than Westfleet at this stage and had been forced to offload through the night simply to clear the backlog, boats waiting hours to get in.
"It’s a logistical nightmare ... Everything works around the tide. We have boats set off the bar because they can’t get along [the wharf]."
Council chief executive Paul Pretorius agreed the council was having to "take it on the chin" with the dredging question.
It was now considering other options given that the dredge was a "maintenance dredge".
"We’re working with the Government on a potential one-off dredge — it’s one of the most urgent things in the Grey district at the moment," Mr Pretorius said.
The Greymouth dredge had been out of action for the past fortnight with continuing "issues", the Grey District Council said.
The Port of Greymouth report to the monthly council meeting drew a quip from Mr Kokshoorn: "Don’t bring up the dredge," he said, to hoots of laughter.
The port report noted problems again with the hydraulic winch for the cutter arm, which disturbed the lagoon bottom before silt was sucked up.Because of that the dredge had been out of service for a fortnight, although repairs were due to be completed.
"A report on the operating aspects of the dredge has been commissioned from Weir Group in Australia, manufacturer of the Warmann Pump fitted in the dredge. This report is due and port staff await the results so as to understand how to improve the dredge performance."
A small "hole" had been identified where the dredge was last positioned in front of the Westfleet wharf.
"The depth over a small area was noticeably deeper, by up to 2m," port staff said.
"Dredging of the lagoon and entrance remains a priority, with depths becoming unworkable in most areas at mid to low tide."
Notably, Talley’s had said the depths had "noticeably improved" following its use of a long-arm digger recently to clear the lagoon directly in front of its wharf.
- Brendon McMahon