Nature can rebound, given a chance!

Spearfishing for Kingfish at the Three Kings Circa 1960s. Photo: Wade Doak.

If you live in New Zealand, you really could not complain about the stunning weather we have been having. Dive shops have been having a fantastic entry to their prime summer season.

Over this period I enjoy getting out for my once a year adventure spearfishing off the East Coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, although it is rather sobering to see how the fish population has decreased since I first arrived in New Zealand in 1970.

Then, I was a member of the Reefcombers Spearfishing club. Some of the members were national champions. Our playground was the Alderman Island 20.8 kms off the beautiful town of Tairua.

We would see schooling kingfish in their hundreds. A moving wall of glistening silver fish would pass beneath us. We never really appreciated what we were seeing as special. Back then it was just normal. I still recall the shock we all felt when this massive school suddenly shrunk to around 100 fish. We all asked: What’s changed?

Then we discovered Sealord, a New Zealand fishing company, had done a joint venture with a Japanese company to install Box Nets off the Coromandel shore line. This type of fishing was very effective. Just about any fish or shark swimming the coastline ended up in the “box” which was at the end of a 300 metre net out from the coast. I tried to Google about these nets being used in New Zealand. No luck.

This year I had time to recall those amazing times as I was diving Richard’s Rock off the Mercury islands with my son in-law Tim in the search of a king fish to feed the family. Visibility was ‘dusty’ but eventually out of the gloom about six kingies came in for a look. How things have changed!

From Richard’s Rock we worked the shore line for a snapper or butter fish and in the end we did ok with one kingie, a kahawai and a few butter fish. All we needed to feed three families.

Photo: Richard Robinson.

Spearfishing is a great physical activity and a very selective way of obtaining a feed of fish. But there is a down side.

Many new to the sport will spear some species of reef fish because they are easy to spear: Leatherjackets, Red moki, Sandager’s wrasse, Orange and Scarlet wrasse, Goatfish to name a few. How many they are spearing is anyone’s guess, but some might say, hey they have to start somewhere.

The New Zealand fishing Industry has recently recommended targeting reef fish so there is more variety of fish for people to eat, though having a healthy reef fish population is paramount for maintaining a healthy, vibrant, BALANCED marine ecosystem. The fishing Industry must be getting desperate when it encourages the harvesting of reef fish many of which cannot be caught on a hook.

One of the most in-your-face effects of fewer reef fish such as crayfish and snapper is the proliferation of kina barrens. Kina numbers can explode due to a lack of their natural predators keeping their numbers in check.

Then later I was discussing with Dr Roger Grace and Wade Doak (both legends who we can thank for the stunning marine reserve at the Poor Knight Islands and much more) the shifting baseline of what people now perceive as heaps of fish when in fact they are a mere fraction of what they once were.

You may have heard about the cuts in the total allowable cray catch for the area CRA 2 stretching northwards from East Cape to south of Whangarei in the Bream Tail area. These cuts are necessary due to the fishery collapsing with the recreational daily bag limit being cut voluntarily from six to three. The commercial total take has been cut to 173 tonnes.

This action is expected to double current rock lobster abundance in CRA2 in about four to eight years.

Dave Moran
Editor at Large

scroll to top