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Meet a member – Donna Wells

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Donna Wells, Director of Finestkind is Seafood Industry Australia’s only New Zealand member. Well respected and valued within the Australian seafood industry, she is an integral part of the New Zealand commercial fishing industry.

“I love that I get to travel and eat amazing seafood for a living. I want to make a difference and be an ambassador for our industry,” Donna says.

Born and raised in Auckland, Donna is of Ngati Kahu descent. After the usual upbringing and schooling she then started travelling and it was on a visit to Hayman Island in Australia in the 1970’s that she met her future husband, Ken Wells. The Wells name is synonymous with fishing, a respected family who have their base at Wakatahuri, in the Marlborough Sounds. The place to this day is not on the national grid and many boats have been built and launched there over the years, including Ken’s own, the FV Orca.

Meeting Ken was Donna’s first introduction to the commercial fishing industry. They travelled extensively and worked overseas in various jobs, including a fish factory in Iceland. They married in 1991, and had a son named Max. Although no longer married, they both work amicably together in the local commercial fishing industry.

Donna spent years understanding the commercial fishing industry and took time to get her head around all the complex rules and regulations of the seafood industy. In 1999, Donna put these skills to the test by forming Finestkind, a boutique seafood company. Her company sources locally caught fish from small operators fishing in various areas of New Zealand and exports it to the Sydney Fish Market (SFM).

In almost 19 years of operation Donna has seen the company grow and become a major New Zealand supplier to the SFM and a recipient of numerous awards and commendations.

Along with the export side of her business, an important part of the Finestkind model is quota management and ACE trading as well as seafood promotion.

“Promotion of New Zealand seafood and the commercial fishing industry is my passion,” Donna says.

Donna was a member of the industry group which created the Code of Practice for bar crossings which led to the video ‘Crossing the Bar’, produced for education and safety. Another role was being on the FishGROUP which eventually evolved into FishSAFE. Donna was also the first New Zealand member of the Women in Seafood Community (WINSC) Australia, and a director for four years.

Finestkind has also participated in many of New Zealand’s finest seafood festivals and was successful in winning the Best Seafood Item at Seafest in Kaikoura in 2003 and 2009. Over several years at the prestigious Marlborough Wine and Food Festival, Finestkind have taken the People’s Choice Award (2013), second place in 2012 and winner of the Supreme Food and Wine Match Competition Award in 2009 with partner Saint Clair Family Estate, New Zealand’s most awarded winery.

In addition to the New Zealand awards, Finestkind has also been highly commended in the Best Supplier category of the Sydney Fish Market Seafood Excellence Awards in 2011 and 2013, and a finalist in these awards in 2017 and 2019.

Donna works tirelessly for her company and is affiliated with several organisations relating to the commercial fishing industry and others that are not.

“I have seen the industry change over the years, some for the better and some for the worse when you see the vessel numbers dropping due to a number of factors that include vessel and fisher age and increasing rules and regulations. A general mantra that always comes to mind is,

“you need to have the attributes of an armadillo and the hide of a rhino to survive in this industry,” she says.

When asked where she thought the commercial fishing industry would be in 20 years – she responded

“I believe most of the small fishers will have given up. That is incredibly sad for those who have committed their life and livelihood to this industry. Those left will be extremely valuable and hopefully in the time between now and then, industry watch dogs and regulators will have learned to listen to those who know this industry from the water and act quickly”.

“I would like to see an industry where a fisherman is a respected person, an industry where there is accountability and sustainability; an industry where decision makers listen to those on the water and those who have made a livelihood based on experience and knowledge”.

As Finestkind comes into its 19th anniversary of incorporation on 1 December 2019, Donna is excited to be working on “Our Story”, which will be released to celebrate Finestkind’s achievement. Other new initiatives include the re-entry into the USA market this year, giving Finestkind three strong export destination markets, Sydney, Melbourne and Hawaii.