New Zealand Premium Whitebait, the country's only commercial whitebait farm, has been sold by receivers to its creditor and shareholder, the commercial investment arm of the Ngati Tahu-Ngati Whaoa tribe, for $1.095 million.
Receivers Ecovis KGA sold the whitebait business to Tahu Whaoa Group Holdings for the value of the group's $927,500 debt and a cash payment of $167,500 on May 15, some six weeks after their appointment by the group on April 5, it said in its final report. Tahu Whaoa tipped the company into receivership after the whitebait farming venture was unable to service its loan as the lack of cash coming in weighed against the significant outflows and working capital requirements, the receivers said.
Attempts to sell the business to other potential purchasers failed, and the company's major shareholders declined to invest further funds through an acquisition, the receivers said.
"A key factor was the fact that the business being carried on by the company represented little more than a pilot project and, while there was no doubt around the fact that it represents a scientifically sound operation, a significant capital spend will be required in order to commercialise the business," the report said. "That, together with the expected quantum for the existing business assets acted as a deterrent to all potential purchasers."
NZ Premium Whitebait was formed in 2014, predominantly by Maori interests, to commercially farm whitebait after the know-how was developed at the Mahurangi Technical Institute in Warkworth to enable whitebait, the juveniles of five species of fish, to be reintroduced into streams affected by Auckland's Northern Motorway extension.
It produced its first commercial harvest from its Warkworth base of about one tonne in 2016 in a season running from August to December and had hoped to invest in a new saltwater facility to grow whitebait at NIWA's Bream Bay aquaculture base south of Whangarei. The larger facility was expected to help boost annual production to between 20 to 30 tonne, expand the length of the season, and test the export market.
The company's assets at the time of the receivership included $474 of cash and equivalents, $146,000 in inventory of brood stock and consumables, and $2.318 million of plant and equipment. The brood stock was kept alive and operations maintained during the receivership, the report said.
The receivers report noted that wages of staff during the receivership were met by Tahu Whaoa, and added to the group's debt.
Distributions from the receivership to preferential creditors such as the Inland Revenue Department totalled $167,500 but there were no funds available for distribution to unsecured creditors, the report said. The receivers were paid $44,107 in fees.
The report listed $180,073 owing to unsecured creditors such as trade creditors, landlords and utilities.