You don’t have to be a big fish to make an impression

Checking out the high quality product before packing and exporting to Sydney Fish Market Photo credit: Lesley Hamilton

You could be excused for not being aware of some of the smaller businesses in the Australasian seafood industry, but one punching way above its weight is Nelson, New Zealand based FinestKind, owned and operated by Donna Wells, which specialises in selling export grade seafood to both the domestic and global markets. In addition, the company is an independent quota broker sourcing quota on behalf of independent owner operators and companies as part of its business model.

Donna is of Ngati Kahu descent and was born and raised in Auckland.

After finishing school, she got itchy feet and needed to travel. Australia was the destination of choice, and it was on a working holiday to Hayman Island in the 1970’s where Donna met her future husband, Ken Wells, a commercial fisherman.

Meeting Ken was Donna’s first introduction to the world of the commercial fishing industry.

They travelled extensively and worked overseas in various jobs including a fish factory in Iceland. Whilst the marriage did not last, her involvement in the fishing industry did and she continued to increase her knowledge of the complex rules, regulations and legislation within the seafood sector, and make a living through her mahi at Finestkind. Ken and Donna still work amicably in the industry today.

Showing up on the auction floor at Sydney Fish Market Photo credit: Donna Wells

Seeing an opportunity in 1999, Donna started her own business FinestKind, which would focus on boutique seafood from niche fisheries, with small operators fishing various areas of New Zealand and exporting it to the Sydney Fish Market. The business operates in three areas: export, quota trading and seafood promotion.

With over 20 years of operation, the business has grown and become a major supplier to the Sydney Fish Market, and has received numerous awards and commendations for the high standard of seafood supplied.

This included awards for presentation of seafood and partnering with Saint Clair Family Wines at the esteemed Marlborough Wine and Food Festival for many years, winning awards in all categories. The Supreme Award went to the dish, Chilli Macadamia

Scallops teamed with St Clair Vineyard’s Omaka Reserve Chardonnay. Finestkind continues to attend and promote the best kai moana, with a local theme, at the Bluff Oyster Festival and recently cooked up Blue Cod Burgers at the FirstMate/ Port Nelson Fishermen’s Association community barbecue.

To Donna, there is more to promoting high quality New Zealand seafood; it is the story; the preparation and the delivery. It is also about our fishers and doing what we do and know best. We eat with our eyes.

All Finestkind fish packed for export include a photo of the vessel that caught the fish. This provides not only a level of traceability but gives the buyer an insight into the type of vessel and size that catches the fish. Every polybin tells a story—our story. Finestkind is not a volume operator, preferring to focus on quality rather than quantity, and maintains a high viz presence alongside much bigger companies—sometimes on the front foot and other times, in their wake!

Apart from operating the business full-time, Donna is also involved in numerous groups and has been a proud Match Sponsor of Big Brother Big Sisters of Nelson NZ since 2015.

Local industry involvement has seen Donna as the Port Nelson Fishermen’s Association Treasurer for 30 years; an active member and past Director of Women in Seafood Australasia (WISA) which is the national Australian based organisation representing the women of the seafood industry, and is a proud supporter of the NZ Federation of Commercial Fishermen – FishFed.

Donna was a member of the industry group which created the Code of Practice for bar crossings that led to the video ‘Crossing the Bar’, produced for education and safety. Whilst it has been some time since it was promoted, the same important principles apply, safety first. The wellbeing of people in our industry has been a huge focus, particularly since Covid. What happens if you don’t come home? What happens if you can’t work any more?

Whilst Covid had a significant impact on the whole seafood sector, FinestKind has stood resilient and continues to thrive and upskill, in the new now.

These are the toughest times the industry has known; facing the changes, challenges and reforms being proposed for the industry. Society needs independent companies like FinestKind to support local inshore fishers and raise the profile of the New Zealand fishing industry to the world. It can be done. Finestkind is a proven performer through all seasons and a passionate supporter of our commercial fishing industry and operators. When you support a small local business, there’s a knock on; we support other local businesses. Be wise— support local.

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