Sealord says Nelson wetfish factory ‘not economically viable,’ 97 jobs at risk

Sealord, New Zealand’s second-largest fishing company, says it needs to downsize its Nelson wetfish processing plant and may eliminate 97 jobs in the face of rising costs, flat prices and a still-strong kiwi dollar.

“In its current form, the wetfish factory is not economically viable, and we need to make improvements now to ensure Sealord’s ability to grow and invest in its operations in the future as we increase our focus on fresh and chilled products,” the company said in a statement. “We have worked to propose a solution that, while very difficult for those impacted, means that we could continue to run a smaller wetfish operation focused on higher value products.”

Shedding 97 jobs would be equivalent to cutting 13 percent of the company’s permanent workers, said the company, which is jointly owned by Maori tribal interests through Aotearoa Fisheries and Japan’s Nippon Suisan Kaisha. Its Maori and Japanese shareholders remain committed to the company, it said.

Service and Food Workers Union assistant national secretary Neville Donaldson said the government and iwi needed to do more to protect jobs in fish processing, after 200 jobs were lost at Christchurch’s Independent Fisheries in December.

Sealord reported a $44.3 million loss in the 12 months ended Sept. 30, 2013, reflecting a $46.9 million loss on the sale of its Argentinian business. Revenue fell 6.1 percent in that year.

Today the company said it is “in stable financial shape.”

“The business has moved past the losses of 2013 linked to the exit from Argentina, and will pay a dividend to shareholders for 2014,” it said.

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