The Catch

Work-up woes

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY JOHN EICHELSHEIM

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.


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.

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