Ar­ti­san Fish­ing in the Bay of Plenty

North & South - - Environment -

THREE O’CLOCK in the morn­ing is a dis­turb­ing time to go to work, but for the three-man crew of the fish­ing ves­sel Coastal Rover in Tau­ranga, it’s stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure.

Cap­tain Rus­sell Har­vey and his sons, Dan and Ryan, run the boat as a fish­ing fam­ily af­fair. They work the reefs and sand flats off the Bay of Plenty coast when­ever the weather is half­way de­cent. But in­stead of trawl fish­ing, the Har­veys em­ploy more eco-friendly long­line fish­ing. “And you catch bet­terqual­ity fish this way,” says Rus­sell.

On a typ­i­cal day, they will bait, set and re­trieve up to 2000 hooks, the whole pro­ce­dure tak­ing the best part of 12 hours.

First, the boat steams out at a steady six knots to their cho­sen fish­ing ground, about 20-25km off­shore. As they head out, the crew bait and pre­pare the lines. Mostly they use pilchards, salted down for three days so mois­ture is re­moved and the flesh is tough enough to stay on the hook. The hooks are a re­curve style with a me­tal prong above to dis­suade small fish from be­ing hooked ac­ci­den­tally. Bait­ing is time- con­sum­ing; sharp hooks and knives are wielded with care.

At their des­ti­na­tion, the crew drop their tori ( bird-scar­ing) line first. Rus­sell lobs a buoy that looks like a road cone with an orange soc­cer ball stuffed in its base. It’s at­tached to a long line of strong monofil­a­ment from which hang lengths of brightly coloured tape, to help scare seabirds away from baited hooks.

The Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries has made it oblig­a­tory to run a tori line while long­line fish­ing, and is in­tro­duc­ing a more strin­gent mon­i­tor­ing pro­gramme for com­mer­cial fish­ers. Dig­i­tal mon­i­tor­ing – com­pris­ing geospa­tial po­si­tion re­port­ing (GPR), catch re­port­ing via e-log­books and on­board cam­eras – will pro­vide bet­ter in­for­ma­tion about com­mer­cial fish­ing ac­tiv­ity, en­abling bet­ter mon­i­tor­ing of fish­ing catch, by­catch and in­ci­den­tal ca­su­al­ties, such as pilchard-pinch­ing seabirds.

All trawl ves­sels of more than 28m now op­er­ate un­der the GPR and e-log­book re­quire­ments. This de­vel­op­ment is an ex­tra cost to the fish­ers, but some have al­ready bought into sus­tain­able fish­ing mod­els – and not just be­cause it’s the right thing to do. Line fish­ing not only re­duces the amount of by­catch – from dol­phins to an­cient co­ral – it also com­mands pre­mium prices in the mar­kets of Ja­pan, Sin­ga­pore, the US and Aus­tralia.

ON THE COASTAL ROVER, the line is ready to be hauled in. It’s been down for around three hours, dropped over a patch of sand in 60m of wa­ter to the north­east of Mōtītī Is­land.

There’s a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion as the top marker buoy is re­trieved; the line is then hooked onto a large reel and brought to the sur­face. It’s a smooth op­er­a­tion and all about tak­ing care of the fish – avoid­ing stress­ing or bruis­ing them as they come aboard, then dis­patch­ing them hu­manely.

I set my stop­watch to time the catch tran­si­tion. The first fish is un­der­sized, and is quickly un­hooked and re­turned to the ocean un­harmed. The sec­ond is a 40cm snap­per in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion.

First, Dan pauses the re­trieval reel, deftly re­moves the trace from the line, and swings the fish and its at­tached trace in­board, where it lands on the pro­cess­ing ta­ble. Here’s where you dis­cover how much these guys care about the qual­ity of the fish they catch. The snap­per lands on a piece of foam – a cush­ion to pre­vent bruis­ing of the flesh.

Rus­sell takes the trace in one hand; his sec­ond hand holds the fish firmly on the cush­ion. He re­moves the trace and hook, re­turn­ing them to a trace frame for tidy safe­keep­ing. Ryan, mean­while, takes hold of the fish and with an iki spike – a tool like an icepick – care­fully stabs the fish above and be­hind the gill, into the brain.

The snap­per is then slipped into a tank con­tain­ing salt ice slurry. The lower freez­ing point of the ice en­sures a rapid chill­down time for the fish – es­sen­tial for main­tain­ing per­fect flesh.

Time elapsed since the fish left the wa­ter: 22 sec­onds. The Har­veys re­peat this ma­noeu­vre up to 1000 times a day.

TOP CHEFS scour the world for qual­ity fish. Chef Daniel Chavez, owner of the Ola Cocina del Mar res­tau­rant in Sin­ga­pore, is vis­it­ing Tau­ranga solely to see where his fish comes from and how it’s caught.

Orig­i­nally from Peru, Chavez has never been fish­ing, ei­ther with a hum­ble rod or on a com­mer­cial ves­sel. I’m not sure what he’s ex­pect­ing, head­ing out on the Coastal Rover in blokey New Zealand, but what he gets is pretty spe­cial; his de­light as he catches his first fish on a rod and reel, a golden snap­per, is pal­pa­ble.

Dan Har­vey is a bit of a chef him­self. He prides him­self on his raw fish salad and pan-fried snap­per, nor­mally wolfed down between slices of white bread and but­ter as a hot-fish sand­wich to keep the boys go­ing while they’re work­ing.

Chavez has brought a bag of tra­di­tional Peru­vian fix­ings to show the crew what he does with their fish in his res­tau­rant. He has a pas­sion for chilli, the ba­sis of many dishes from his home­land. His ce­viche in­gre­di­ents in­clude cap­sicums, lemons, red onion, fresh co­rian­der, gar­lic, gin­ger, sugar, salt, Wai­heke olive oil and a cou­ple of sa­chets of a chilli prepa­ra­tion he bought at a spe­cialty store in Auck­land. The scene is set for a deck­side cook-off.

The fish­ing com­plete, we steam back into Tau­ranga Har­bour, pulling into a shel­tered bay. As the an­chor drops into pel­lu­cid blue-green wa­ter, a seal sur­faces with a large oc­to­pus fixed in its jaws. The seal thrashes the cephalo­pod from side to side, tear­ing away bite-sized pieces, then gulp­ing them down.

This is bet­ter than tele­vi­sion. First, Chavez gets The Fish­ing Show, then Masterchef: The Fish Chal­lenge and now it’s Blue Planet. For the Har­veys, this is just another day; Chavez is on cloud nine.

While Rus­sell and Ryan pack the catch into fish bins sur­rounded with salt ice, Dan se­lects a few nice-sized snap­per, quickly fil­lets them and starts to pre­pare his dish. Chavez lov­ingly chops his raw in­gre­di­ents and smiles as he looks at the per­fectly chilled fil­lets set in front of him.

Chavez takes a bite of his Kiwi hot-fish sand­wich. “What we’re look­ing for in a res­tau­rant is flavour, which pri­mar­ily comes from the raw in­gre­di­ents,” he says. “There’s no magic be­hind it; if you use fish that’s been liv­ing in a clean en­vi­ron­ment like this, has been caught in a re­spon­si­ble, sus­tain­able man­ner, then treated with care dur­ing the whole de­liv­ery chain – well, we’re off to a good start.”

In such a sim­ple way, ex­port re­la­tion­ships are born.

Above: An early start. Top right: Skip­per Rus­sell Har­vey (right) and son Dan (cen­tre) say eco-friend­lier long­line fish­ing also de­liv­ers top-qual­ity fish. Be­low right: Chef Daniel Chavez with his rod-caught golden snap­per.

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