A Special Dive, 225 Tuna

By Darren Shields

This year I had something very special happen in my dive career that I think many should see. We were 50 miles off Greymouth, New Zealand, in the Hokitika Trench. We had arrived just on dark locating one of the massive joint venture Russian trawlers that are dragging hoki from the bowels of the trench to the surface. It is behind these nets that the giant Pacific bluefin tuna follow and feed off any morsel that looks like a piece of hoki, they compete with seals, birds and sharks – making for an amazing spectacle.

It was my sixth time out here over the past few years and it is always just as exciting.The boat readies itself for the net finally coming to the surface, a baited hook is dropped in and you wait for one of the big freight trains I have seen following these bags to nail your piece of hoki. Our skipper put us right on the spot, the bait was deployed and grabbed almost immediately, the big fish headed down and away, peeling line off the reel like there was no tomorrow. For the next hour and a half we were unsure who was going to win, fish or man. Man prevailed and one large tuna was dragged on board with estimates of around 225kgs.

We fished for the rest of the night with only the occasional shark grabbing baits and a brief but exciting visit by two large tuna that zoomed around under the boat in the lights making for great viewing.

First light found us in an almost empty ocean compared to the previous night. The big trawlers had all gone, leaving behind a few charter boats. We wondered what to do now and soon had bait under us and a telltale red blob on the sounder that generally indicates a tuna. Baits were deployed and we quickly had a fish on the hook taking nearly two hours to bring close to the boat. This time with daylight on our side I geared up and as the fish got close I jumped in and rolled tape. The big tuna spotted me and angled my way, seeming happy to have a companion as he went through what were to be his final moments in the ocean – something I have struggled with since. He was lit up with dorsal erect making for a magnificent sight. After being dragged to the boat a tag was rammed home, unfortunately hitting an artery. I called to the guys on top that the fish was bleeding out. It was gaffed and hauled on board; now two monster fish were lying side by side, a mountain of meat.

While we messed around bait was again thrown into the water and before long someone called out – TUNA! Sure enough there under the boat were two massive tuna feeding on our burly. I was in. What a sight; massive fish leisurely feeding metres from me. More bait was thrown in and I rolled my film. As time went on more tuna arrived and they ate everything but the baited hook. It was something I was wrapped with, this was a far better spectacle than another big fish pulling line.

I was joined in the water by a novice diver who could not stay on the boat any longer after hearing my hoots and hollers. The fish slowly worked into a feeding frenzy around us. I cannot portray in words the sight of those massive fish, someI estimate to be around 300 kg. It was something very special and made me realise we need to take a good look at how this fishery is handled while there are still some left. I know many think it is okay to catch and release these mighty fish but how can we judge the mortality rate once the fish is released? Why not take out people, bait the fish in and then swim with them as I did? It can be done using simple snorkelling gear which leaves very little impact on these amazing fish. The experience will last for as long as the fish are happy to feed and the experience can be for many not just the person in the chair with a rod or the diver lucky enough to get his spear to hold in one. I guarantee the experience will leave you in awe.

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