However, the verdict is in and, to a collective exhaling of breath, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. And, for a number of reasons.
Speaking at the Maori Fisheries Conference on Wednesday Sealord general manager, group operations, Doug Paulin had just announced that, in a new agreement, 37 iwi groups will share 60 percent of their annual catch entitlements with the company.
Sealord is half owned by M?ori, however this deal will see all its vessels catching more iwi quota and returning 80 percent of the profits to iwi. Tokatu, the most advanced and biggest by tonnage vessel in the New Zealand fleet, is pivotal to the success of that deal.
The on-the-water performance has been impressive. Paulin said the Tokatu’s ability to tow in big seas is unbeatable. She can comfortably fish in 14 metre waves, something no other vessel in New Zealand is capable of. Even the Ukrainian BATM vessels, which are longer than Tokatu, run for cover in those types of conditions.
Paulin has always said that the biggest benefit is the vessel’s ability to catch all the species Sealord has in its quota portfolio, unlike other vessels such as the Rehua which can only catch hoki, ling and a few other bycatch species.
This means Sealord can lower the cost for catching. Rehua in the off season might only be getting 8-10 tonnes a day when the Tokatu would just turn around and target another quota species, which Rehua cannot catch.
However, Paulin said it meant the skippers were now having to catch in fisheries where they had little experience - fisheries traditionally targeted by their Russian and Ukrainian crewed vessels. While initially confident they could do anything, the Russians could do it was soon apparent that the kiwi skippers on the Tokatu were significantly lacking that expertise.
Sealord asked for help from its Russian friends and they now have a trawl master and a fishing master on board to support the kiwi skippers and crew - a move that has significantly improved the catch.
The Tokatu’s stated ability to freeze over 85 product weight tonne a day was always its greatest benefit. That meant, depending on the species, a total catch of 100-150 tonnes of fish a day. However, that lofty aim hit an early snag.
Paulin said that was one of the worst issues of a few they discovered with the vessel on arrival and again as they tested her. He said at one point they thought they would have to reduce the volume down to 50 product weight tonnes because of the clear and worrying inefficiencies of the freezers.
The reason for the freezer inefficiency was something of a shock but the solution turned out to be simple. Turns out the Norwegian shipyard had turned off all the main ammonia pipes to the freezer and only the bypass valve was working. Once the main valves were turned on and the bypass valve was turned off capacity went up 45 percent.
The Tokatu is now out-fishing the BATMs and the freezers are humming.
Paulin is confident that the Tokatu will pay significant dividends through to iwi as a shareholder and that will be cause for celebration for the 37 iwi who now have more skin in the Sealord game.
Rex Chapman the Tokatu’s skipper, said that in his 35 years at sea he has never been on a vessel with her seagoing abilities. One of the crew remarked that 40 knots is the new 20 knots - meaning they don’t even notice it. Rex said on his latest trip he was still fishing in 80 knots, with 14 metre seas.
The only complaint Rex has is he reckons Sealord need another two of her.