..and the bonus in the bin

A fine day on the water – summer magic – photo credit NZ RLIC
The country is drying out after a relentlessly wet winter and longer days are allowing more time for fishing. Daryl Sykes reflects on the change of seasons, the opportunities for fishing and diving..

In the small coastal village where I live, the pace of fishing and boating picked up over Labour Weekend. Boats appeared on the beach early in the morning and the hum of tractors and grinding of metal on gravel, as trailers were shunted into the sea, briefly drowned out the morning chorus of hungry seagulls.

It was good to note, almost every person onboard those recreational fishing boats was wearing a life jacket. In no small part, because of a very pro-active local fishing club, the majority understood the fishing rules: bag limits, net lengths and size limits. The fishing has been good here, as we slosh out of a very wet spring into an uncertain summer. The fishing will improve, as the first months of the New Year normally offer up long periods of settled weather and good catches of school groper, gurnard and tarakihi. Further west in the bay, the surfcasters are already picking up goodsized snapper, so the mood is positive and expectations are high.

The recreational divers will probably have much leaner pickings. Droves of them descend on the coast on every day that sea conditions are suitable for a grovel in the rocks and weeds. The pursuit of legal pāua or big kina is a difficult one—the easy roadside access to miles of coastline ensures that all the big ones have been picked over well before now. Proof of diver frustration and illegal intent are the numerous small piles of undersized pāua shells to be found under rocks and driftwood. Meat is easier to carry, easy to hide and, once minced, the size of the original pāua is purely speculative.

The lobster divers will do better than their shellfish gathering cousins. Lobsters routinely move around their habitat and in the lead up to Christmas, can be found in close to shore and will be in tip-top condition. The males have recently moulted, have hard shells and are ‘meaty’ on the inside; the females have also put on condition after the debilitating spawning cycle back in September. As summer progresses, there is quite a dance to be done once the females have moulted again and prepared themselves for mating in February/March and the mature males are herding up their love nests. If you are a reasonably proficient diver and cannot get a bag limit of lobsters on more than just a few days over the Christmas/ New Year period, then I respectfully suggest you take up a new hobby.

The good keen men and women—often of a certain age or physical condition— who have a preference to drive a boat to set and haul lobster pots will get more fishing days in than the divers. And, if they pay attention to their gear and to the quality of their bait, fishing success will be theirs.

Boomer commercial lobster season

The local commercial lobster fishermen have been having a great season. Catches and catch rates have been steady and the legal state lobsters are showing up in excellent condition. That will only get better over the next few months as more post-moult male lobsters become vulnerable to potting.

Many of the local commercial operators have exhausted their annual catch entitlements and have already brought their gear ashore (a few unruly boat fishermen will be upset they have to use their own anchors instead of tying onto commercial gear).

Good gear and good bait are what catches lobsters. Pots must have regulation escape gaps and both pots and floats must be marked to identify the owner. Set nets can be a hazard if not properly tended. Stay with your nets, run short soak times over the change of tide and never cut a net loose into the ocean. Drag it off if you have to—a torn net on deck is far less cost to you and the fishery than an abandoned net in the sea. Take particular care with ropes—they can also be a real hazard to both man and beast if not shortened up to suit the depth of water in which gear is being set. Getting your own rope around your own prop is more than embarrassing, it is potentially dangerous.

Don’t wrestle with whales

As the numbers of recreational users continues to increase so does the opportunity for gear conflict and entanglement. Marine mammals can pick up loose rope and wrap themselves quite quickly. Entanglements should be promptly reported to DOC. You might get lucky and be able to unravel a small dolphin or orca, but it is technically illegal to do so. When it comes to the big stuff, it is downright dangerous and lives have been lost when well-meaning fishermen have tried to unwrap a whale. Call DOC 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468). They have specialist dis-entanglements teams.

We expect a lot of the ocean—customary, recreational and commercial users have both their daily targets and limits, and the current economic climate has increased fishing for food activity. The increasing cost of going fishing—fuel in particular—is motivation for people to catch their limit.

Even if every legitimate harvester plays by the rules, a remarkable quantity of fish and shellfish is removed from the sea annually. The commercial guys are held to account for every fish they take and land, the others not so much. Recreational bag limits for most popular species are generous and high-grading smaller fish in preference to the largest ones should be discouraged. Big hooks, big baits generally result in big fish. The best snapper I ever landed took half an albacore tuna head on a hook.

Then there are the greedy, self-interested fish thieves who pillage whatever they can, whenever they can get away with it. Successful prosecutions, such as recently reported for hundreds of kahawai and illegal pāua, are mere snapshots of what is really going on. Legitimate fishers cannot afford to subsidise fish thieves so take the 0800 4 POACHER (0800 47 62 24) number with you—and use it please.

The problem with spring/ summer fishing is that intensive effort is localised; there are few ‘secret spots’ these days. GPS, multi-beam sounders and the proliferation of recreational media has opened up fishing to even the least able amongst us. How many times have you been on ‘your spot’ in the middle of a seemingly empty ocean only to watch a few late arrivals coming over the horizon and anchoring up within a hundred metres of you?

At least play by the rules

All of which points to the importance of duty of care and custodial attitude in relation to fisheries and shellfish resources. We have a fisheries management regime that facilitates utilisation whilst it attempts to ensure sustainability. More than I want to, or should have to, I have frequently written that ‘we cannot manage what we do not know’. The Ministry for Primary Industries simply doesn’t know what recreational and customary are catching each year, with any degree of certainty. Therefore, we cannot be certain that some stocks are currently sustainable, when we do not know what those catches are.

Uncertainty is amplified because so many people want to measure “sustainability” at a very local level, not in relation to the stock or species as a whole. Therefore, the responsibility—at the very least—is to play the game by the rules.

Fishing success is a consequence of stock abundance and access opportunities. Don’t squander the latter by littering beaches and boat ramps, or by leaving vehicles and trailers in places where they impede traffic, including emergency services. Be mindful of tikanga: the appropriate preparation and handling of seafood taken for food. Customary users will be alert to the abuse of their tikanga and increasingly they have the means to curtail fishing access in order to preserve it.

Like me, you probably spent most of winter and spring in gumboots, trying to keep dry and warm. There is heat in the sun now and it’s shining longer, which creates more time to get onto or into the water. Be safe, be responsible, remember that you do have duty of care and, above all, have fun. It is the fishing, not the catching, that is the true recreation. Fish in the bin after a day on the ocean are a welcome bonus.

Share this post :


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Create a new perspective on life

Your Ads Here (365 x 270 area)
Latest Stories

Subscribe our newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates direct to your inbox.


Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates direct to your inbox.