Fish for food
New Zealanders have long supplemented their diet with fish from the coast or estuary. At night by the light of a hurricane lamp, they use a spear to catch flounder from mudflats, and nets are set in shallow harbours for species such as mullet.
Many people fish from small boats for ‘desirable species’ that provide good eating, such as blue and red cod, snapper and kahawai. Recreational anglers are generally happy if they catch anything that provides good-quality fillets. Even so, many clubs keep a record of their heaviest catches.
T. E. Donne spent over 35 years fishing in New Zealand. Here is one of his anecdotes:
When residing at the Bluff I was ‘batching’ with three other young men. We never worried about getting something in advance for breakfast, as all one had to do was to jump out of bed and, in pyjamas, walk to the sea front, fifty yards away, wade into shallow water on the sands and spear as many large flounders as required. 1
In the past, the main focus for tourist launches was big-game fishing. But by the 2000s, charter boats were offering recreational fishing for tasty species such as blue cod and trumpeter.
Shore and boat fishing
Shore fishermen fish from rocks, wharves and beaches. Those on the beach are often called surfcasters, as they use long rods to cast their baited hooks and lead sinkers into the waves. In some areas people will improvise, using kites to carry their baited lines offshore.
Boat fishing is popular at spots where fish congregate – near reefs, or current convergences. Methods include baited hooks lowered to the sea floor, jigging (bouncing a lure up and down) and trolling (pulling a lure behind the boat).
Access to sites
Before the 1960s many enthusiasts reached isolated bays first by bicycle and then on foot. Trail bikes, four-wheel motorbikes and four-wheel-drive vehicles have made access easier, and even helicopters are used to reach headlands on Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula.
On many rocky coasts, steps are cut into cliffs, and ropes lead down to wave-cut platforms where people fish at low tide. This can be very dangerous, and the unwary are often carried out to sea by a big wave. Cases of ‘missing presumed drowned’ are all too common – especially among young Asian men fishing from rocky Auckland shores.
Fly-fishing is traditionally a freshwater method, but in the 1980s and 1990s people tried it in the sea, casting the fly from a boat. This has proved most effective once a school of fish is found. It is mostly used for kahawai and trevally, although many species, including marlin, have been caught this way.
Up until the 1970s catching coastal fish was relatively easy if you were willing to put in the effort. But as stocks became overfished both commercially and for sport, catches of many species declined. Recreational and commercial interests are in direct competition for some species, and political involvement of the recreational sector gained momentum during the 1980s.
Recreational fishing is not subject to the Quota Management System, which applies to commercial fisheries. Instead, the Ministry of Fisheries estimates the recreational catch for certain popular species before setting the total weight of fish to be caught commercially each year.
The politics of kahawai and snapper quota-setting are especially contentious. The New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council, representing clubs around the country, lobbies central government – for instance to reduce the commercial allowable catch for kahawai (known as ‘the people’s fish’). The recreational catch can be a substantial proportion of the total catch. For instance, for kahawai in 2004/2005 it was estimated at 3,415 tonnes, out of a total of 7,612.