Ammonia fish kill results in substantial fine

The total fine of $337,500 imposed on Silver Fern Farms is believed to be the largest on record and sends a very strong message that the community will not tolerate actions that damage or threaten waterways and the species in them, says the TRC.

An ammonia leak at the Company’s Hāwera plant on 19 February 2020 resulted in unauthorised discharges of the toxic chemical to air, and also to the Tawhiti Stream when a water curtain was deployed to protect staff and the surrounding community. The contaminated water killed fish along a reach of 13km – the widest extent any such incident on record – and was of major concern to the local iwi, Ngāti Ruanui.

The Company pleaded guilty to two charges brought by the Council, and appeared before Judge Dwyer in the Environment Court at Hāwera today.

The decision was highly significant, says the TRC Director-Resource Management, Fred McLay. The Judge’s starting point for the sentencing was $450,000, the same as the starting point (before reductions for guilty pleas and other factors) in the case arising from the Rena oil spill off Tauranga in 2011. In the Rena’s case, the fine was reduced to $300,000. So today’s fine is believed to be the largest fine on record for offences of this type and highlights the serious environmental and cultural impacts on the Tawhiti Stream, says Mr McLay.

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of fish and eels were killed down a long reach of a stream that tangata whenua, in particular, value highly, he says.

“Staff and others were also put at risk," he says. “The agreed facts put before the Court show the Company did not have adequate contingencies in place to deal with malfunctions in its industrial-grade blast-freezer plants. All consent holders should take note and check their own contingency plans and staff training.”