Fishing for Mudfish – use Marmite

Believe it or not, marmite and mudfish featured in an award-winning environmental strategy for a Northland quarry. HUGH DE LACY explains.

QM_P22_Feb_March_2014_1The Christchurch Marmite factory taking a massive hit in the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes briefly stymied one aspect of the environmental strategy at Rodney Aggregates’ Whangaripo quarry, but no mudfish rose to the alternative baits of Vegemite and jam anyway.

And so a half-hectare of wetland at the quarry’s site 90 kilometres north of Auckland could safely be used for dumping overburden.

Marmite, the iconic Kiwi edible spread, was the bait recommended by the Department of Conservation (DoC) for the traps that quarry manager Jason Hinton had borrowed to find out if any native mudfish lurked in the little wetland intended as the overburden site.

At the time the trapping began last year though, Marmite had been off the supermarket shelves for the two years since the factory was destroyed in the earthquakes, so Hinton had to settle for rival product Vegemite – and, just to make sure, jam was tried as well.

Neither of the alternatives drew any mudfish into the traps and, unless the mudfish palate gives it an exclusive preference for Marmite over both Vegemite and jam, it was fair to conclude there were no mudfish to be found.

It was this sort of sensitivity to ecological considerations that won Hinton and Rodney Aggregates the Mimico Environmental Excellence Award last year.

The mudfish trapping exercise was just a small part of an environmental programme that Hinton established at Whangaripo primarily, he told Q&M, to improve the quarry’s community relations.

Whangaripo is a joint venture between Winstone Aggregates and Fulton Hogan on a leased site 10 kilometres west of Matakana, producing around 190,000 cubic metres of aggregate a year for the Auckland market.

The 400-hectare farm has been in the Petrie family since 1919 and its greywacke outcrop was quarried for construction of the Matakana Hill road about 1937.

It was further worked in the 1970s by Wharehine Contractors and later by a local contractor, Roy Gubb, but had lost its existing-use status under the Resource Management Act by the time that asphalting company Bitumix signed a profit a pendre quarrying agreement with the Petrie family trust in 1989.

There was vocal opposition to Bitumix’s subsequent application for a quarrying resource consent, especially from locals who didn’t like the idea of streams of trucks using the hill road, and the eventual consent banned them from it.

That prohibition has since been commuted to 20 truck movements a day over the hill, but all other trucks have to take a 20 kilomtre northward detour to Wellsford before turning south to Fulton Hogan’s Northland and Winstone-owned Firth Concrete’s plants at Silverdale and Albany.

As such it greatly inflates the joint venture partners’ transport costs in bringing Whangaripo’s aggregates down to the Auckland market.

Winstone Aggregates bought Bitumix out in 1995, and the joint venture with Fulton Hogan to form Rodney Aggregates was signed in 2003.

For a quarryman, Jason Hinton came from an unusual background.

A chef by trade, he spent 12 years with the La Bonta restaurant in Albany before following a brief stint in Australia by taking up a position as site foreman and quarry manager with McBreen Jenkins Construction at its Puketona quarry in 2002.

Global construction and resource giant Transfield Services bought McBreen out in 2005, and for the next five years Hinton managed eight of the new owner’s quarries in the Northland area.

Taking voluntary redundancy from that role in 2010, he joined Winstone Aggregates as an assistant quarry manager, quickly rising to manager of its Whitehall, Camerons and Hancock’s forest management quarries in the Bay of Plenty.

Two years ago he was appointed to run Whangaripo, by which time he had accumulated qualifications that include a Level Five National Diploma in Extractive Industries Management, a Certificate in Applied Work Practice, a National Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety, a National Certificate in First Line Management, and an Exito A-grade Quarry Manager’s Certificate.

He had also been appointed an Exito national assessor.

In 2011 Hinton won the Institute of Quarrying’s Roctec Award, before last year lifting the prestigious Mimico environmental award with a special mention for his Vegemite-and-jam strategy to find out if there were any mudfish at the Whangaripo overburden site.

More broadly the Mimico award, judged by former Commissioner for the Environment Dr Morgan Williams, recognised Hinton’s work with the local iwi, Ngati Manuhiri, in bio-diversity plantings and weed control at Whangaripo.

It also recognised his initiative, in concert with the iwi’s environmental officer, Fiona McKenzie, in linking the Whangaripo quarry to a community and catchment water monitoring programme run by the Auckland City Council.

Called Wai Care, the long-running programme encourages groups, individuals and businesses to join in regular monitoring, maintenance and improvement work to optimise the environmental health of water catchments.

Whangaripo’s joint venture partners have been committed supporters of Hinton’s environmental strategy, which has its own budget within the quarry’s wider commercial management strategy.

“We set our environmental objectives every year, just as we do our health and safety objectives, and we strive to achieve what we’ve set,” Hinton told Q&M.

“[The partners] check our progress every year on the various management objectives, so we can concentrate on certain areas where we feel we’re not doing as well as we should.”

From the partners’ point of view, Whangaripo represents a business input cost, with the quarry’s budget pitched at creating a small annual net profit after tax.

And the mudfish?

“There weren’t any: we set some traps that we got from DoC last August, and baited them with Vegemite and jam in the absence of Marmite, but nothing showed up in them so we were able to start dumping our overburden on it,” Hinton says.

And should Hinton ever have occasion to go trapping native mudfish again, he can do so in the comfort of knowing that the Christchurch factory’s been fixed, and genuine Marmite bait is back on the supermarket shelves again.

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