Sealord The Wounded Phoenix


Noeleen Burton and  NZ Sea Products Administration Manager, December 1966Noleen Burton and NZ Sea Products Administration Manager, Peter Exnevad, December 1966

It was with a sense of déjà vu that I read in the Nelson Mail on Saturday March 14 20091:  ‘More jobs to get the chop’ and going on to say ‘160 process workers and 29 salaried staff at ‘Sealord’ to be made redundant’; then, on  March 192 and 213,  reporting rallies held to try and stave off the inevitable.  Added to the already lost mussel division jobs last year, it paints a grim picture for our city with job losses. Other large firms are also experiencing a downtown adding to the job loss tally, but ‘Sealords’ is one of the most far reaching.

Back to the beginning. After my return to New Zealand and Nelson from my big "O.E." to Europe and Britain with my husband in the middle 1960’s, I applied and secured a position in late 1966 with the fledgling fishing industry firm New Zealand Sea Products,  which was poised to revolutionise fishing in Nelson and beyond. I was general everything, there being only a few staff to begin with, but mainly wage clerk and office worker. One of the first things to organise was curtains around the office windows. You name it, I did it.

NZ Sea Products Factory, Nelson, December 1966NZ Sea Products Factory, Nelson, December 1966
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The wages were all hand done on the old Kalamazoo system, pound shillings and pence of course. An office boy (Jim, real name Alan but we already had an Alan) was employed to help me. Wednesday nights we had to finalise the wages, do the coining (all cash in those days) and send Jim down in his FJ Holden to pick up the money from the bank next day. This was factory wages. When the trawlers began, wages would be worked out and paid when they came into port. I wasn’t privy to salaried staff wages until my boss Per (a Norwegian)  who did them,  couldn’t balance his books at tax time the first year and asked me to do it. After correcting compensating errors in them, all done - both the factory wages and salaries!

Sea Harvester trawlers, October 1968Sea Harvester trawlers, October 1968
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We all stood on the wharf and watched the two big Sea Harvester trawlers, which had originated in Trondheim Norway, arrive at different times ready to begin. After the arrival of the trawlers, the whole operation began to mushroom, with jubilation at the first overseas sales. All factory staff were allocated a free half pound of fish per family member per week. Smoked fish and fish meal production began also. More office staff were employed (thank goodness, my typing was indifferent to say the least). The future looked rosy. I organised enjoyable staff functions too. 

Decimal currency arrived on 10th July 1967. A Sea Harvester was due early morning  on that date, so I spent all the weekend before checking the conversion of wages to decimal currency. Early Monday morning 10th July, Jim in his trusty Holden collected the first ever decimal currency wages to be paid out in New Zealand, at 10 o’clock. That fact was reported nationally. Naturally, everyone wanted to see the new money and swarmed around me as I counted. One young lad later brought his back after payment saying he wanted real money.

NZ Sea Products, final pay, October 1968NZ Sea Products, final pay, October 1968
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I had a short break when I thought psychiatric nursing might be my career (mostly because my Dad wouldn’t let me when I left school) but soon returned. As fate would have it I was there at the firm’s demise into receivership in October 1968.  After a few false starts ‘Sealord ‘ was later born, to become a very successful company.

The Company started as New Zealand Sea Products Export Ltd. in 1965. The first factory opened in Port Nelson on February 1967, with the arrival of the trawlers Sea Harvester I and II. The Company lost money quickly and was forced into receivership. The premises and equipment were sold to a consortium and a new company, Sealord Products Export Limited, was formed.4

In 2009, Sealord's processing headquarters is in Nelson, where it has fish, coated products and shellfish processing plants. Nelson is also the base for Sealord's Fleet Managers, Research & Development, Information Systems, Human Resources and Staff Development and other support services. Since then, the company has been jointly owned by New Zealand Māori, through Aotearoa Fisheries Limited, formerly the Waitangi Fisheries Commission, and Japanese seafood company Nissui, and is one of the largest seafood companies in the Southern hemisphere.5


Updated: April 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Basham, L. (2009, March 14) More jobs get the chop The Nelson Mail, p.1
  2. Reich, J. (2009, March 19) Rally to support affected workers. Nelson Mail, p.3;
  3. Basham, L. (2009, March 21) Jobs crisis sparks rally Nelson Mail, p.1
  4. Parr, W.H. (1979) Port Nelson - Gateway to the sea.  Nelson, NZ : Nelson Harbour Board, p. 203-4
  5. Sealord Ltd.

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  • cool man

    Posted by phillipa crack, ()

  • My mother worked for the Fishermans Co-op(?)in the old power station building and left when they were taken over in the 70's. Fishing was big back then. I had 2 cousins,uncle,and father someway involved.

    Posted by Geoff S, ()

  • I think that this was a amazing story, really really inspired me.

    Posted by Hannah, ()

  • Its amazing story that I never heard when I was working in Sealord. I work there for 9 years.

    Posted by lorna wells, ()

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Further sources - Sealord The Wounded Phoenix



  • Basham, L. (2009, March 14) More jobs get the chop The Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Basham, L. (2009, March 21) Jobs crisis sparks rally Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Berryman, W.(1992, September 25) Sealord saga reveals fish hooks for investors Independent; p.9-10
  • Churchouse, N. (2007, May 31) McKay goes back to the future Press p.C4
  • Eion, S. (1993) Catching to specification New Zealand International Business,15(3), p.16
  • Elliott, S. (2005) Seafood innovation grows FMCG,.11(8) p.68-71
  • Gardiner, J. (1990, December 4) Sealord shuts down Dunedin fish operation Dominion, p. 10
  • Kaitiaki of the Māori commercial fisheries asset; Sealord forges ahead (2001) Mana; n.40:p.62-63
  • Mackay, D. (2000) Stake in Sealord Company up for sale Tu mai n.12, p.16-18
  • Maritz, F., Judd, W. & Bathurst, M. (2001) Deep harvest. New Zealand Geographic, n.50:p.102-120
  • O'Brien, P.V. (1991, March 8) Fish industry flounders. National Business Review, sup.p.8-10
  • Official opening of new factory for Sealord Shellfish Ltd (1996, March 30) Nelson Mail, pp.15-20
  • Reich, J. (2009, March 19) Rally to support affected workers. Nelson Mail, p.3
  • Sealord boss resigns to take up new role (2007, January 31) Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Sealord finds new chief (2007, May 31) Nelson Mail, p.3
  • Sealord goes hi-tech (1992, January 30) Export News, p.10
  • The Sealord deal - what it means for Maori? (1992, October) Mana Tangata : Maori Newspaper, p.122-3
  • We profile Sealord, one of New Zealand's most productive seafood companies (2000) Seafood International, 15(2), 37-39
  • Worral, R.(2002) Engineering the Catch Applying state-of-the-art engineering expertise to the business of catching fish keeps Sealord Group and the New Zealand fishing industry out in front E.Nz Magazine, p. 4
  • Young, D. (1991) Brian Rhoades - unflappable skipper Terra Nova, n.11:p.20-22

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