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Coronavirus fallout continues

Gisborne is more than 11,000 kilometres from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China but the economic affects are being felt here in Tairawhiti. Forestry, in particular, has been hit, along with the fishing industry, with workers facing reduced hours or being stood down. It is a wait-and-see period of uncertainty but in response, the community has stepped up to help through donations to food banks, yesterday’s information day, a series of community hui next week and plans for a drop-in centre for those needing help.

Managing the cost of running live crayfish holding plants and working with alternative products to mitigate the loss in value are among Ngati Porou Seafoods Ltd's strategies to adapt to the impact of coronavirus on rock lobster exports.

Due to the outbreak of the virus, China, the fisheries' main crayfish market, has closed its doors to rock lobster imports.

“We are also supporting industry bodies in discussions with government officials for assistance,” said Ngati Porou Seafoods (NPS) general manager Mark Ngata.

“This is important as everyone across the supply chain is impacted. I take my hat off to the minister (Minister of Fisheries Stuart Nash) for his willingness to have these discussions.”

The Government has agreed to help crayfish exporters to minimise the impact of trade disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak in China. Between 150 and 180 tonnes of live rock lobster were held in pots and tanks after export orders were cancelled by Chinese distributors.

Along with closure of the Chinese New Year festivals, normally a period of peak demand in China and a time in which high-value products like crayfish sales rely on, alternative markets have also closed due to the spread of the virus.

“This is a great example of how fragile our global supply chains really are,” said Mr Ngata.

Mr Nash agreed to a limited release of rock lobster back into the wild but said the industry needed to find new markets for rock lobster that were not able to be returned to the sea.

The coronavirus outbreak was also likely to impact seafood exports such as paua, oysters, kina, scampi and mussels, said Mr Ngata.

“We have had to process live crayfish held in our tanks to other forms such as whole frozen crays and frozen tails that can be sold through our local Real Fresh store or supermarkets.

An evolving situation, communication key

“Fresh fish exports to China will also be impacted although most of ours are frozen fish products. These are pre-sold so they should not be affected.”

NPS has learned to adapt to crises such as the coronavirus, says Mr Ngata.

“This is not the first virus outbreak of this nature. We all remember swine flu and bird flu, so dealing with the impact is more about improving our supply chain areas to be able to react quickly across our fishers, land-based plants and markets.

“Clear communication is key and, by all accounts, the global response has improved significantly from those other viruses which lasted three-to-four months in terms of operational impacts and up to 12 months in terms of a rebound in market prices.”

Most of NPS's fishers have completed catching crayfish so have been paid in full, says Mr Ngata.

“Those that haven't normally catch late in season anyway so they will need to work with their companies to mitigate any loss based on current situation.”

The coronavirus crisis is an evolving situation and the rock lobster industry is important to the New Zealand economy,” said Mr Nash.

“It makes a vital contribution to a number of small fishing communities. I will continue to monitor the situation.”

Gisborne Fisheries was not available for comment.

Regional response — East Coast roadshow next week

A SERIES of community hui for workers and employers impacted by the coronavirus will be held next week as part of a regional response.

A Regional Leaders Governance group met on Thursday to discuss the effects so far and how key agencies would work together to support those affected.

Mayor Rehette Stoltz, appointed regional spokeswoman for the group, said the wellbeing of Tairawhiti residents remained the key priority.

“We are closely involved in monitoring this situation and responding in practical ways to support our people.

“This is having a big impact on our region — particularly in the forestry and fisheries industries at the moment,” the Mayor said. “We encourage anyone who is feeling the impact of this to reach out for help.”

The governance group includes Gisborne District Council, Eastland Port, Eastland Group, Eastland Wood Council, Ministry for Social Development, Te Puni Kokiri, Trust Tairawhiti and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Trust Tairawhiti hosted a meeting with business owners and contractors yesterday to discuss issues around employee wellbeing, financial support and short-term employment options. Representatives from accountancy firms, lending institutions, the health sector and IRD were there to provide information.

Various agencies will also visit the East Coast next week on a roadshow to talk to whanau, contractors and employees about any support they may need.

Multiple agencies will be available on Tuesday at Wharekahika Te Puna Manaaki a Ruataupare from 10am to midday and then at Tikitiki Te Riu o Waiapu Community Hub from 1pm to 3pm.

On Wednesday, the roadshow will be at the Ruatoria Haati Naati cafe from 10am-12pm and at the Tokomaru Bay Cafe 35 from 1pm to 3pm.

Mayor Stoltz said it was crucial the East Coast communities got support and information.

“People north of Uawa are likely to feel the effects of this for longer.

“We are collecting data relevant to Tairawhiti to provide back to central government and give a clear message we need more support for our region.”

The Regional Leaders Governance group will meet again next week and provide an update to the community.

Quest to set up drop-in centre

Wade Brunt has plans to set up a drop-in centre — a safe place for people to ask for help.

Mr Brunt was at yesterday's information day in his role at Safetree Toroawhi, where he looks after worker engagement and wellbeing.

He had been in touch with around 70 workers, who were all affected last week.

Mr Brunt also runs Jogging for Logging' — a group of forestry workers who regularly meet to exercise.

At Tuesday's training around 25 guys turned up, he said.

“Our training looks after the physical side. The conversation afterwards looks after mental health.

“Everyone was back at work but they are on reduced hours.

“They're still taking it day by day.”

Mr Brunt said he knew many men who were too proud to ask for help or walk into Work and Income.

“There is an urgent need. There were a lot of mental health problems anyway and this situation has added to that.”

His goal is to set up a centre where people are welcome to go and share, and ask for help in a safe space.

But he needs funding, a place and community support for some gear.

Anyone who wants to contribute can call him on 027 777 0815 or e-mail wade@safetree.nz

INFORMATION DAY: A wide range of expert advice was made available at Waikanae Surf Life Saving Club yesterday for business people and contractors hit by the forestry downturn. Among those on hand to offer their services for the information day organised by Trust Tairawhiti were (from left) EIT workbroker Robyn Barker, Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou chairman Selwyn Parata, Wendy Gatley of Trust Tairawhiti and Siobhain Fyall of Eastland Wood Council. Specialists in employee wellbeing, accounting, legal, finance, tax, and mental health were there, along with the IRD, Ministry of Social Development, farming, horticulture and forestry representatives.We had a real mixture of people come through during the day, primarily from the forestry sector, and mostly contractors,' said Trust business growth adviser Wendy Gatley. 'The people who came to the information day were concerned about the impact of reduced working hours, managing their issues with the IRD, and general business issues. Some of them were really quite concerned. It's the uncertainly that's worrying people most. The information day was well worth it. It was good in terms of bringing people together to have conversations with a variety of different agencies. 'I think the people who came to see us went away happier.' Picture by Rebecca Grunwell