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Firm seeks positive outcome on access

Firm seeks positive outcome on access
Battling nature: with less time to fi sh, less is being caught and Burkhart Fisheries has also faced logistical diffi culties associated with the road through to Kaikoura being closed for so long.

Launching boats from Ward Beach never used to be a problem for long-established Marlborough crayfi sh business Burkhart Fisheries, but the Kaikoura earthquake changed all that.

“Ward Beach came up three metres higher than it was,” explains Dennis Burkhart, who runs the business with his brother Trevor and their respective wives, Barbara and Cathy. “ It means you can now only get out three hours each side of high tide, as long as there’s no swell.”

In Ward, the firm’s fi sh processing factory was badly damaged in the earthquake, though remarkably was up and running again “in standby mode” within 24 hours of the upheaval.

The factory has its own water supply system and generators, as well as a skilled local staff. “So they were able to immediately pull together and get things going again.”

Yet the challenges have been ongoing. With less time to fi sh, less is being caught and there have been logistical difficulties associated with the road through to Kaikoura being closed for so long.

The solution has involved getting the catch to Blenheim before flying it on to export facilities in Auckland and Christchurch.

So far there have been no job losses at the firm’s processing plant in Ward, but Dennis admits the post-earthquake environment has put a lot of stress on everyone.

Getting better beach access for their boats would be hugely helpful, he suggests. Without it, the company’s long-term future is in doubt but so far their efforts to achieve that access have been unsuccessful.

Last August, their application to form a 1.5km paper road from Ward Beach to near the Chancet Rocks scientific reserve was declined because of concerns over adverse environmental impacts.

The commissioners also suggested such a decision ought to be more appropriately put in the hands of legislative authorities.

Burkhart Fisheries has appealed and is now awaiting a decision. In December, an Environment Court order was also put in place to prevent Burkhart Fisheries from using bulldozers to drag their boats up Ward Beach.

The company has since submitted an ecological management plan to address environmental concerns over potential impacts on nesting birds.

Firm seeks positive outcome on access

Dennis Burkhart, right, with brother Trevor, is optimistic “commonsense will prevail’ as the company looks to secure new beach access for their boats.

Dennis says he is frustrated that legislation passed under urgency to allow interventions to assist economic and community recovery in the Hurunui and Kaikoura stops south of Ward Beach.

“Somehow Ward Beach was overlooked. We don’t want to use bulldozers on the beach – that’s not our preferred option – but what else can we do?

“No-one is taking action to help us get through all of this. Our costs have gone through the roof – we’re sinking.” Yet, Dennis says he is still optimistic that common sense will ultimately prevail.

“The family has always been at the leading edge,” he observes, citing a fl air for invention that stretches back to his Swiss great-grandfather, a watchmaker and silversmith.

Dennis, in his turn, drew inspiration from fluid cooled Merlin engines to develop innovative refrigeration systems to support live crayfi sh exports from the 1980s.

“We did that using ‘the Burkhart valve’ so we could control temperatures to 0.1 of a degree,” he says. “Wineries in Marlborough today still use the technology we came up with.”

Dennis and Trevor started the business from scratch more than 40 years ago with a small Rural Bank loan. Their hard work saw the company flourish and grow into a major local employer.

Fishing profi ts have been consistently ploughed back into the community, with the Burkharts having also invested in a service station and a local motel.

“We have invested back into a community that has invested in us. I only hope we will be able to leave a platform for others to be able to build on what we have created.”

This article was brought to you in association with the following New Zealand businesses… Morgan Plumbing, Wadsco Motor World, Gascoigne Wicks Lawyers, Active Refrigeration, Cresswell Electrical & Wallace Diack Chartered Accountants Limited