was out on the ocean the other weekend with my old fishing buddy Mark Kitteridge. We have fished together for 40-odd years, up and down the country and around the world. And while ‘exotic’ fishing is challenging and fun, most of our fishing effort is closer to home in the waters of the Hauraki Gulf. The Sunday in question was fine and calm, so Auckland’s boaties were out in force. We had elected to fish an area close to the islands in relatively shallow water that traditionally produces good fishing at this time of year. It’s a 40-minute run up the coast from the nearest decent boat ramp in my small boat, providing plenty of time to look around.
It was quite dark when we set out but as the day got older, the sheer number of boats visible on the horizon, clumped together in small and large groups, became apparent. They were fishing deeper water, drawn by the work-ups and bait schools that are such a feature of the Hauraki Gulf, especially in late spring when snapper are preparing to spawn. It is bonanza time for anglers.
Mark reminded me that 30 years ago, when we first started fishing the waters of the Gulf, recreational fishing effort was largely concentrated on more easily accessible inshore coastal waters. Sure, a few boats fished out in the middle, usually
If we don’t want to kill the golden goose, we need to fish responsibly.
launches or the odd, large trailer boat, but boats were on average smaller and less capable back then and heading out to 40 metres was not something you’d normally contemplate in your 14-foot tinnie.
How things have changed! Fishing a work-up not long ago, I stopped counting the boats around me when I got to 200! There were many, many more in the distance stretching in every direction.
This level of exploitation is unprecedented. The number of boats chasing work-ups in the middle of the Gulf has grown exponentially over the last few years, fuelled by media attention, real-time intelligence reports on Facebook and Twitter and the development of tackle and techniques tailored to this style of fishing. These days no work-up is safe for long!
And it doesn’t hurt that work-up fishing is not only easy, but also spectacularly good at times. If you have a boat capable of reaching the fishing grounds and some rudimentary fishing skills, you can expect to do well.
According to a recent report in the NZ Herald, total boat trailer registrations between 2008 and 2018 grew by 46%, with the Auckland region responsible for the lion’s share of this increase. As more Aucklanders get into boating, and the boats they’re buying get bigger, the popularity of ‘work-up’ fishing continues to grow.
Many of the new registrations are to first-time boat owners just discovering fishing. As newbies, some of them may have an incomplete understanding of recreational fishing regulations, limited appreciation of fish conservation and no clue how to release fish properly, even when doing so is appropriate (which for snapper in 40-50m it is not – see below).
Which brings me to the point of this article. While it’s great to see so many people enjoying a wonderful fishing resource, that resource is finite. If we don’t want to kill the golden goose, we need to fish responsibly.
Bag limits are designed to limit our catch, but the number of anglers, especially in the Hauraki Gulf, is growing all the time and large numbers of anglers fishing for densely-packed schooling fish can have quite an impact on stock levels, especially if everyone takes a limit bag or decides to ‘high grade’ – keeping only the best or biggest fish and discarding the rest.
There’s really no need to take a limit bag just because you can. And while most anglers are conscientious about sticking to bag limits, a few are not. Exceeding the daily bag limit is not only illegal, it’s also immoral – you are effectively stealing fish from other anglers and future generations.
Even catching a limit bag every time you go out can be morally questionable. I fully understand someone who fishes a couple of times a year taking a limit bag to share with family and friends, but for someone who fishes once or twice a week (or more often than that – and there are plenty who do), to do the same is irresponsible.
But human nature being what it is, when the fishing is good, it is easy to get caught up in the moment without giving too much thought to how many fish you might need or the overall impact you may be having on the resource.
Before you know it, you – along with hundreds of anglers fishing nearby – have filled your bag limit. And what then? Not many fishers want to go home after just a couple of hours of hot fishing. And when it’s on, you can easily fill your bag in much less time than that.
CATCH AND RELEASE
Okay, I’ll practise catch and release, you might say, which would be okay in 10 or 15 metres of water, provided you handle the fish carefully. But catch and release studies have shown snapper survival rates quickly worsen as the water gets deeper. It’s quite possible many of the snapper anglers release while fishing in 40 metres of water don’t survive due to barotrauma injuries. Those fish are lost to the fishery, wasted.
Catch and release is not a viable option for snapper caught in 40 or 50 metres of water because the risk of them dying after release, even if they appear to swim away strongly, is too high. So, it seems to me work-up fishers have a couple of choices: stop fishing once they have enough snapper for their needs, or if they feel they must continue fishing, relocate to water shallow enough that catch and release is feasible.
As spectacular as it can be, work-up fishing is not the be-all and end-all of snapper fishing, as Mark and I proved yet again the other weekend. Fishing soft plastics in water that ranged between six and 21 metres deep, we caught snapper and kingfish all day long, keeping a couple for the table and releasing the rest. The biggest snapper was over 9kg and after a quick photo it was released to swim away in good condition.
When we filleted the three snapper we each kept for the table, none of them showed any evidence of damage from barotrauma, so I’m confident the ones we released are still swimming around, available to catch another day! BNZ
LEFT When the gannets start piling in it’s hard not to get excited
BELOW AND BOTTOM LEFT There’s good fishing away from the work-ups, too, and in shallower water snapper like Mark’s 9kg beauty can be released in good health.