Layoffs at Kahungunu fishing business amid mounting losses

By Will Trafford

Photo / NZME

The restructure of Ngāti Kahungunu's commercial assets has begun with the downsizing of the Iwi's Takitimu Seafoods business, costing some 45 jobs and seeing the closure of its Hastings retail store.

The move comes after the Iwi posted a $10 Million loss for all its commercial assets in the last year.

Outgoing Kahungunu chair Ngahiwi Tomoana announced almost two-thirds of Takitimu's 70 kaimahi will lose their roles, after the business lost nearly $7 million last year.

"Despite our best efforts and mahi, we made a significant loss last year, and this year another loss has been forecast," Tomoana said.

"We need to make urgent changes to our business to turn this around.

The restructure will see fishing operations outsourced, and fish exports paused; while the Hastings store will shutter, the Napier store will remain open, serving fresh fish and a variety of seafood and takeaways.

The Takitimu restructure comes amid a broader review of the Iwi's almost half-billion dollars of assets.

Takitimu fisheries chair Ngahiwi Tomoana says job losses were unavoidable with further financial losses scheduled at the seafood business / NZME

Takitimu fisheries chair Ngahiwi Tomoana says job losses at the business are unavoidable, with further financial losses forecast Photo / NZME

The performance of Iwi assets was central to last week's board election, which saw Tomoana unseated from the chair role by reformist Bayden Barber, who ran on a platform of bringing some assets under Ngāti Kahungunu Inc's management, so they could be effectively and efficiently restructured.

Tomoana attributes the Takitimu loss to disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic to domestic and international markets, saying the business was profitable when acquired from Hawke's Bay Fisheries in 2019; he did concede prospective profitability may have been overestimated at the time of purchase.

“It was a five-year study before we actually pulled the trigger to buy it. What we didn’t realise is that volumes of fish did not equate to volumes of profit. Doing some forensic examination when you’re in the business is like looking at your car while it’s running to see where that tapping noise was coming from. That’s what we were forced to do,” Tomoana said.

Independent observers are tomorrow expected to confirm the election results, which saw Barber take the leadership of the Hawke's Bay tribe by a 486-vote margin.

Tomoana says the company is working to source new employment opportunities for laid-off staff, and says a number of business partners and taiwhenua have been lining up to hire them.