Clearing the way for all

Pulling up an entire snagged tree – branches and all – from the
waters off the coast of Hawke’s Bay. Image Karl Warr.

In the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, debris and slash washed into the waters off Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti Gisborne. This was catastrophic for all marine users – underwater hazards can be incredibly dangerous to all sorts of vessels.
Commercial fishing vessels were particularly hard hit as it became dramatically unsafe for fisherman to fish in their usual way. Waters that were full of hazards – underwater logs, building materials and even car parts. And these objects weren’t just a physical threat to safe fishing, they became a serious psychological threat as fishers took a huge financial hit from not being able to fish. Napier-based fisher Karl Warr has been fishing for gurnard and flatfish in the waters of Hawke’s Bay for over 20 years on his modified trawler, FV Chips. He fishes fairly close to shore, which means locals are familiar with the sight of his boat.
Fishing in shallower waters also meant the debris that washed into the bay in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle had an immense impact on Warr’s ability to fish.
“I don’t have the capacity to fish far away from home. If we don’t catch, we don’t eat, so my first day back on the water was five days after the cyclone. I put my gear down and had to stop after 15 minutes,” he remembers. Something needed to be done and that something came about in mid-October 2023, in the form of a hazard-mapping project led by Seafood New Zealand Inshore Council, supported by FirstMate, project-managed by Guard Safety, and funded through the North Island Weather Event (NIWE) Time-Critical Primary Industries Recovery Fund.
About four days a month for four months, FV Chips and 5 other vessels from the area, set out in pairs between the Hawkes Bay coast up to the East Cape, identifying and mapping where the underwater hazards lurk. This was much-needed paid work for these fishers.
To identify where hazards are, the vessels towed their normal fishing equipment bolstered with additional safety measures, such as quick-release ropes, should they encounter any significant debris under the water. Participating fishers recorded their start and end locations, as well as their rough tow line and direction.
During the tow, they also mapped any vessel stops or starts as well as when they run into targets – debris. Warr says after he ran into buried debris, he would often turn the vessel and go over it again a few more times to assess if it’s still a hazard or has been sufficiently dislodged. Items that can’t be pulled up and are still safety issues are also mapped and the information passed on to local stakeholders.
“It was reasonably nerve-wracking to start out with,” Warr admits. “You were going into the hornet’s nest, and you knew it. We had whole nets ripped to pieces or torn. But then some tows we had no problems.
“We found quite a lot of buried logs from native and exotic trees. Ninety-five per cent are buried with a little piece sticking out. Some act like an anchor and tear the bottom of your net out. Sometimes you can pull out the whole item – one day we had two feet of stump with roots.”
Warr says the project helped to speed up the process of safely returning fishing grounds to use, which is especially important to bring business back to the region and ensure local food security should another weather event leave the Gisborne and Hawkes Bay regions isolated again.
The data collection is now being analysed. Once finalised, information will be shared with other marine users, including recreational fishers.
“This project has been much appreciated at my end and has had a massive impact in getting me back on my feet. It’s allowed us to go and open an area that fishers have been too anxious to throw ourselves into, or too hazardous to map on our own,” Warr says.
“It’s fairly bold of the government to have stepped in, so we’re hoping to set a positive example of how effective collaboration with industry can be. This is new ground for helping out fishers.”

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