Commercial fishermen Karl Warr (left) and Matt Douglas are still feeling the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle on the waters seven months after the event. Photo / James Pocock
Commercial fishers say their catches are down and there’s still debris and sediment heaped on the ocean floor of Hawke’s Bay, as the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle linger seven months on.
Occasionally, debris surfaces –
mostly in the form of logs. It catches in nets and propellers and it damages boats.
A pile of logs pulled from the water over the past few months lay on the floating wharf at Ahuriri’s Iron Pot where the boat of Karl Warr, of Better Fishing is docked when Hawke’s Bay Today paid a visit.
Every vessel in Ahuriri’s encountered logs since the cyclone in some way, Warr said.
The problem is when things will return to normal is unclear – it lies at the whim of Mother Nature and when she decides to provide the favourable currents that will clear it all off the sea floor.
“It is still washing into the port and causing a hazard for them in terms of getting sucked through the propellers of their service vessels, tugs and those sorts of things,” Warr said of the logs and other debris.
“It is hideously expensive if you damage one of those.”
He said he had switched to a more sustainable business model some time ago in an effort to be socially responsible, but that had made things difficult after Cyclone Gabrielle as he fished closer to port in the same waters where the population had been most affected and the most people fish.
“For me to change what I do now and go further away is pretty tough going with one of the smallest boats in the port here.”
Matt Douglas fishes for crayfish and does set netting and longline fishing in deeper waters than Warr.
He said after the cyclone some boats had to travel as far as Cook Strait, spending more on diesel and time away from families, to catch their target species.
“For the long line fleet, there was hardly any fishing here for the first three or four months after the cyclone at all,” Douglas said.
“It takes a big toll but we are a little lucky – we’ve turned over a bit of crew but we are still operating because that is what we have to do.”
The impacts of a shortage of fish were made clear last week as the Department of Conservation (DoC) reported 23 dead seals of “varying age and decomposition” had been found washed up on Ocean Beach over five days.
Laura Boren, the DoC marine science adviser, said all indications pointed to starvation as the cause of death after receiving the results of a necropsy on the seals.
Boren said DoC was aware of more dead seals at Ocean Beach and they had tracked over 50 dead seals in Hawke’s Bay beaches since late August, mostly pups and juveniles.
Douglas said Cyclone Gabrielle’s effect on fish populations could have had something to do with the seals’ deaths, as he had fished for butterfish near Ocean Beach recently and caught far fewer than usual.
“We had no luck. We got three bins and we normally get 15 to 20.”
For the fishers, there is no quick fix – all they can do is keep their fingers crossed that nature will heal itself. Southerly currents are what they want.
“We are hoping, with El Niño, that will naturally clean itself out but how long that is going to take we don’t know,” Douglas said.
Warr said commercial fishers were used to difficult conditions and came prepared with alternative plans.
“It’s an opportune time to reflect on how we are fishing and whether we make any changes to methodology or approaches to fishing with what we are running into,” Warr said.
“Change is difficult, but not changing can be terminal.”
Not everyone in the industry has survived the past seven months. Ngāti Kahungunu’s fisheries business Takitimu Seafoods shut down in April due to financial struggles.
It had reported three years of financial losses, and after the cyclone struck it became clear it wasn’t going to return to profit in the near future, and the pin was pulled, with about 30 people losing their jobs.
The charity FirstMate has been operating for about two years with the aim to support those in the seafood sector and their families with mental health and wellbeing, and has recently secured funding from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
Vicky Hunt, one of FirstMate’s recently appointed adverse event navigators, said that while the effects were not easy to see on the surface, the already difficult commercial fishery sector was still impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle with silt in the fisheries.
“They are currently having to fish further out, a lot of them have been pulling up, within their net, logs and right up until even now they are still getting onions and apples in their nets,” Hunt said.
She said FirstMate will host a Seafood Sector Wellbeing Event event in Ahuriri at the boat ramp between 11.30am and 3pm on September 21.
James Pocock joined Hawke’s Bay Today in 2021 and writes breaking news and features, with a focus on the environment, local government and post-cyclone issues in the region. He has a keen interest in finding the bigger picture in research and making it more accessible to audiences. He lives in Napier. email@example.com
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council member Neil Kirton has misgivings about Hawke’s Bay’s Civil Defence review. Photo / NZME
It took Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown three days to commission a review into flooding that killed four people in that city, on January 27.
In Hawke’s Bay, it’s more than two months since Cyclone Gabrielle
devastated the region. Eight people lost their lives in the flooding, while thousands more are still trying to put theirs back together.
A review of the emergency response in Hawke’s Bay has been mooted, but it’s weeks away from terms of reference being released let alone an outcome.
That’s far too long, says Hawke’s Bay Regional Council member Neil Kirton. Particularly given the findings of Auckland’s review, conducted by former New Zealand Commissioner of Police Mike Bush, are already public.
“In my view, we should copy their terms of reference and in reality we could almost photocopy their report and apply it to Hawke’s Bay, because the circumstances are very similar,” Kirton told Hawke’s Bay Today.
Brown might be an awkward, even belligerent, character at times. But, as far as Kirton is concerned, the Auckland Mayor has led and shown accountability.
“Give him his due, even before the review he apologised and said it’s on him, that we need to know what went wrong and we need to do a lot better,” said Kirton of Brown.
He’s less convinced about the Hawke’s Bay Civil Defence Emergency Management (HBCDEM) Group Joint Committee – made up of the province’s mayors and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chairwoman Hinewai Ormsby – and their ability to identify where things went so badly wrong on February 14.
Ormsby announced this week that planning had begun to conduct an independent review into the Hawke’s Bay disaster review, but Kirton has doubts about how objective that will actually be.
Kirton says the terms of reference for the planned review are being written by someone who’s reviewed HBCDEM before.
Malinda Meads, of consultancy firm Simplexity, compiled that report in 2019, before being appointed to a senior position with the National Emergency Management Agency, or HBCDEM’s parent body in other words.
“It’s a big concern of mine because one of the reviewers … has been responsible for the previous and ongoing review processes.
“My concern is they are somewhat conflicted in that they’ll be conscious of the need to continue the close relationship they already have with Hawke’s Bay CDEM.
“I’d much prefer it was done on a similar basis to that in Auckland and having the former police commissioner coming and doing it for us as well,” Kirton said.
A spokesperson for the HBCDEM Group acknowledged Meads’ prior relationship with the organisation, but said that would be an advantage in this instance.
“Ms Meads’ involvement in the M&E [Monitoring and Evaluation] process means she is already equipped with awareness of HBCDEM performance and brings this context to the table during the initial scoping phase of the review into the regional Cyclone Gabrielle response,’’ the HBCDEM Group said, in a statement.
“For additional context, the emergency management sector in New Zealand is small and it was a challenge to find a suitably experienced independent consultant who has not worked in the Hawke’s Bay CDEM Group office before and was not involved in the Hawke’s Bay Cyclone Gabrielle response.
“Simplexity are highly regarded and experienced emergency management consultants who met these criteria.
“It’s also important to note that in 2019, when Malinda Meads conducted the Monitoring and Evaluation process, she was an independent consultant and that status applies again now.”
Simplexity director Jane Rollin said once the HBCDEM Group Joint Committee had approved the terms of reference, another set of consultants would be hired to conduct the actual review.
“Simplexity will be represented in this work by me and Malinda Meads as two independent consultants with significant strategic and operational experience within the emergency management sector in New Zealand.
“I am personally delighted to have Malinda on board with Simplexity, as she brings a prior contextual understanding of the performance of emergency management within Hawke’s Bay,” Rollin said.
The HBCDEM Group estimate the terms of reference will be will be agreed upon “in the coming weeks.’’
Mangawhai, where housing prices have been increasing in the past year. Photo / Tania Whyte
New housing data shows Northland might be bucking the trend when it comes to decreasing house prices, but the impact on buyer’s confidence following Cyclone Gabrielle remains unknown.
Aotearoa’s property prices continued on a downward
trend last month, starting off the year with a record-breaking asking price fall of 8 per cent year-on-year in January, according to the latest Trade Me Property Price Index.
However, Trade Me property sales director Gavin Lloyd said not every region saw prices cool off in January, including Northland.
“In the North Island, the Northland (+5 per cent), Taranaki (+3 per cent), and Waikato (+1 per cent) regions all saw their average asking prices increase year-on-year,” Lloyd said.
OneRoof editor Owen Vaughan said while some areas may have seen an increase in asking prices for property, that doesn’t always reflect the actual selling price.
“The trend line for the New Zealand home market is downwards. The average property value in Northland from our figures is down year-on-year by 8 per cent to $844,000.”
Time will likely tell how the damage from Cyclone Gabrielle this month will impact the property market going forward.
“It’s very hard to get a handle on where the market is heading.
“I think you’re going to find some markets that are high-value, markets that are attractive to Auckland … investors like Mangawhai and Langs Beach. Those higher-value beach markets will probably now take a hit from the storms.”
Coastal properties at Langs Beach and the neighbouring Mangawhai Heads continue to attract skyrocketing prices for residential properties in Northland, the Advocate reported in December.
One of the biggest sales was a $5.6 million property in Langs Beach, sold in February 2022.
“But, the strength of those markets is that the infrastructure that’s been laid down to increase the speed of journey times between Auckland and those places kind of makes those properties more attractive.
“But the questions that’ll be on buyers’ minds at the moment will be, has your house been flooded? And vendors need to prepare for that.”
“For Northland, and as for much of the other regions that have been hit really hard by the recent extreme weather events, their focus will be on rebuilding their communities.”
Vaughan said in the aftermath of the cyclone there might be an increase in pressure in terms of sale activity, especially in the rental market.
“That might actually put an extra bit of pressure, at least in the short-term, on the housing market.
“People who have been displaced will need to find temporary accommodation. That might be putting pressure on the rental market, or maybe also putting pressure on some kind of sections of the market as people look to buy a temporary solution while there are properties being rebuilt or been demolished.”
While the housing market has been termed a “buyer’s market” with prices decreasing, housing affordability still remains out of reach for a lot of Northlanders.
“Low sales means kind of low activity, and a certain amount of buyers are kind of holding off.”
Harcourts real estate agent Paul Beazley said he’d seen a slowdown in the number of sales and a bit of uncertainty about pricing in the marketplace recently.
“I think what’s happened over the last sort of three to six months, anyway, is that the markets been uncertain, mainly because of interest rates increasing the cost of living.
“I think putting on top of that the fact that we’ve had these storms, it will make some people nervous, for sure.”
Beazley said he thinks that buyers will be more cautious about property and location after the cyclone, but he wasn’t sure that would last long.
“I think it’ll be short-term. I think once we get a month or six weeks out from the storm period we’ve had – people think it will start to settle down a little bit.
“But if you take Covid as an example, you know, everybody imagined that the market would just wind down and crash, almost, but it went completely in the opposite direction,” Beazley said.
Kiwis are pretty resilient, Beazley said, so he thinks it’s possible that things could settle down rather quickly in the housing market post-cyclone.