Barry Bethune

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YOB: 1940
Experience: Commercial Fisherman, Recreational Fisherman
Regions: Catlins
Interview Location: Kaka Point, NZ
Interview Date: 17 February 2016
Post Date: 11 November 2017; Copyright © 2017 Barry Bethune and Steve Crawford

1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS

CRAWFORD: Where and when were you born, Barry? 

BETHUNE: Kaitangata, 1940. 

CRAWFORD: What age do you recall first spending significant amount of time around New Zealand coastal waters? 

BETHUNE: From the age I could walk, virtually. My father was a very keen fisherman. 

CRAWFORD: In the recreational fishery or commercial fishery? 

BETHUNE: Yeah, recreational. 

CRAWFORD: What type of fish would he typically go after? 

BETHUNE: I started as a kid, trout fishing with Dad. Once I got a bit older - I’d say, 8 or 9, he started taking me rock hopping down around the Long Point area. 

CRAWFORD: What is 'rock hopping'? 

BETHUNE: Fishing off the rocks. I remember the first time he took me down to Long Point, that was a very scary experience. [laughs] When you get down, you're only standing on a ledge, not much bigger than this table. 

CRAWFORD: And you were casting out from that?

BETHUNE: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: You were 8 or 9 years old, but he was with you? This is adult supervision? 

BETHUNE: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: Other than Long Point, were there other places that you spent time around New Zealand coastal waters?

BETHUNE: We had what’s called the flat rock, it was Cosgrove Island - we used to catch a lot of Groper there. And Crayfish and that sort of thing, on the north side of Long Point. 

CRAWFORD: Other than fishing as a kid, back in the adult supervision days, did you spend any significant amount of time swimming or other things like that? 

BETHUNE: Not a great swimmer. But I spent a lot of time on the water though, especially Whitebaiting.

CRAWFORD: That would have been in the estuaries and rivers?

BETHUNE: Yeah. In the Clutha River.

CRAWFORD: When you were a kid, did you and the old man spend time out in boats as well? 

BETHUNE: No. Nobody had boats in those days. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Roughly what age was it when you were a little bit more independent - access to a car, that type of thing?

BETHUNE: When I got my first car at 15. 

CRAWFORD: Did that change the types of coastal activities, or where you could go with that car? 

BETHUNE: No, I kept going back to the same spots. I’d take me mates, and we’d go fishing. 

CRAWFORD: Rock hopping still? 

BETHUNE: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: How old were you when you got your first boat? 

BETHUNE: Well, my brother got the first one actually. And we both started going down to Tautuku then, and fishing off the beach there. 

CRAWFORD: How old were you? 

BETHUNE: Would have only been 17 or 18. 

CRAWFORD: Once you got the boat, what was the split of your on-water activities? Mostly fishing? 

BETHUNE: Oh, for sure. 

CRAWFORD: Or were you doing other things with the boat as well?

BETHUNE: We used it for Whitebaiting and Duck shooting, same boat. But most weekends over the summer period we were at Tautuku. Rain, shine, or hail.

CRAWFORD: Were you also working at that point?

BETHUNE: I was still living in at Kaitangata at this stage, and working at the local freezing works. 

CRAWFORD: This was as a teenager? 

BETHUNE: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: When you said you were fishing 'most weekends,' obviously you job was a factor in that. Was there a seasonality to your fishing? Was it mostly during the summer, or during the winter as well? 

BETHUNE: No, we fished through the winter as well. 

CRAWFORD: When you were fishing with the boat, what were your target species? 

BETHUNE: Groper mainly, and Blue Cod. 

CRAWFORD: And roughly what was the length of that boat? 

BETHUNE: It was only a 12-foot plywood dinghy.

CRAWFORD: Is that the same as a 'clinker dinghy'? 

BETHUNE: No, no. But I finished up with a clinker. 

CRAWFORD: What was the next change in your history on or around coastal waters?

BETHUNE: Well, the freezing works was only a seasonal job. I got quite a few off-season jobs. I worked out in a coal mine, railway, various off-season things. And every chance I got, I went fishing. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. What was the next big thing that changed? Did you buy a bigger boat?

BETHUNE: Yeah, I went to an 18-foot clinker dinghy then. Still amateur fishing. 

CRAWFORD: How old were you then? 

BETHUNE: Let's see ... around 21. Just married, I think. 

CRAWFORD: And when you were fishing off the dinghies, was this handlining or were you rod and reel fishing ...

BETHUNE: Rod and reel, and danlines for Groper.

CRAWFORD: Vertical set lines? 

BETHUNE: Yeah, a dozen or so hooks on a danline.

CRAWFORD: Specifically targeting Groper?

BETHUNE: Yes.

CRAWFORD: What region where you setting those danlines?

BETHUNE: Tautuku - all the time. 

CRAWFORD: Ok - what was the next thing that changed? 

BETHUNE: Well, at the time when we were at Tautuku, there was a guy bought a launch down in Dunedin, he was going to catch every fish in the sea. And it sank at the moorings, this particular night. He’d never done anything about it, he bailed it out, and I actually towed it up to Tautuku River with my boat, out of danger. And it lay there for several months. And my mate and I decided that we’d buy it and go commercial fishing. And right through the stages of getting Cray licenses. That particular off-season, he got pranged up in the coal mine. Got hurt. Sort of all fell by the way-side. And we finished up selling that boat without even catching commercial fish on it. 

CRAWFORD: But a fair chunk of your time went into salvaging and then restoring that vessel. 

BETHUNE: We sold it, and I went to the freezing works the following summer and worked there for about 15 years or what. 

CRAWFORD: All that time you were still doing the same kind of fishing as you had done before? 

BETHUNE: Much to the Wife’s disgust, we were at Tautuku.

CRAWFORD: Rod and reel, danlines, same gear?

BETHUNE: Over and over again. 

CRAWFORD: Aside from the commercial fishing false start, what was the age at which you first started commercial fishing? 

BETHUNE: It was 1971.

CRAWFORD: You were in your early thirties. What type of vessel did you operate? 

BETHUNE: I was at the freezing works, and the stinking hot weather like we’re getting now, and fishing in the bay. At that stage, there were six commercial boats on the beach down here, at the Nuggets. And this particular day, through the grapevine I heard that one of the crew had given up on one of the boats down here. I knew there was no money in it, but the next Cray season was only two or three months away. "Stuff it, I’ll take the bull by the horns." I came down and got myself a job, and I started on the boat the next day. 

CRAWFORD: You were crewing?

BETHUNE: I had to crew for a couple of years to get me sea-time up. 

CRAWFORD: What size of vessel were you crewing on? 

BETHUNE: That was a 28-foot fibreglass. 

CRAWFORD: Was it a Crayfishing boat or Cray-Cod operation? 

BETHUNE: Yeah, it was Crayfishing and trawling. 

CRAWFORD: Craypots and also rigged with trawling gear - did you put that trawling gear on and off as needed? 

BETHUNE: No, no, we carried it all the time. 

CRAWFORD: Where did you ship out from? What was your port? 

BETHUNE: The fishing camp down here, which is ... there’s the Nuggets, so the fishing camp is sitting in the back there. Just next to the Nuggets on the north side. 

CRAWFORD: I think I’ve seen pictures in the photo album over there at the restaurant.

BETHUNE: There’s a photo of me and me boat, over there in the back. 

CRAWFORD: So, this was a beach launch? Is that the same place? 

BETHUNE: That's the one, yeah. 

CRAWFORD: What regions along this coastline were you fishing at that time? 

BETHUNE: 90% of our fishing was done on the Molyneux Bay here. Trawling, Crayfishing. 

CRAWFORD: So, the majority of your time was from the Nuggets, north? Whereabouts in the bay would you be doing your trawling? 

BETHUNE: Oh, we were limited how deep we could go, because our winches didn’t carry enough rope. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly how deep could you go? 

BETHUNE: About 28 fathoms was our max. Out to the shipping lane off the end of the Nuggets. And we only went up as far as about Akatore, and out here to the 12-mile limit. 

CRAWFORD: When you’re trawling, I know you got a lot of different things, but principally what were you looking for? 

BETHUNE: Flatfish.

CRAWFORD: Was there a seasonality to the fishing? 

BETHUNE: Oh, absolutely. This time of year [summer] was the main trawling season.

CRAWFORD: You’d be out pretty much every day the weather would permit? 

BETHUNE: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: When in the year would the trawling start?

BETHUNE: Well, we never really bothered with it, because we were Crayfishing right through till Christmas time - and even after. In those days, it was two seasons. We were allowed to concession fish up here in the Wangaloa area - Nugget point was the cut-off area. You went south of Nugget Point, you had to catch bigger fish. So, we virtually had two Cray seasons. We could have pots south of Nugget Point up to Christmas. Or after the end of our Cray season, which is middle of December. The concession fish dropped off, then we can go south. But by that time, we’d started trawling too, so we didn’t have pots down there. We’d only do them about twice a week sort of thing and do our trawling up in the Molyneux Bay.

CRAWFORD: When you say 'down there,' how far down past the Nuggets were you? 

BETHUNE: Oh, we only went down as far as False Island. 

CRAWFORD: How many years did you fish that cycle - when you were crewing on the boat?

BETHUNE: I crewed for 2 years

CRAWFORD: Then you got your skipper's ticket? 

BETHUNE: Yep, yep. 

CRAWFORD: Were you skippering on someone else’s boat first, or did you ...

BETHUNE: Oh, it was a company boat. I moved away from the Dutchman and his 28-foot fibreglass. And it was a 25-foot wooden boat that came up. It belonged to National Mortgage. 

CRAWFORD: So, you went from crewing on a 28-foot fibreglass, to being skipper on a 25-foot wooden vessel. Roughly, what was the speed on these boats?

BETHUNE: Oh, six or seven knots. 

CRAWFORD: In terms of the fishing pattern when you started skippering off the 25-footer, was it basically the same gear, the same regions?

BETHUNE: Exactly the same.

CRAWFORD: And that pattern of gear and location, that would have extended through until what year? What was the next major change in your fishing? 

BETHUNE: Next major change ... I skippered the company boat for about two years. They gave it a major refit, and they offered it to me for ridiculous money - something like $5000.

CRAWFORD: Ridiculously expensive or ridiculously cheap? 

BETHUNE: Cheap. I started fishing, and I fished right through ... I changed companies, and I finished up me final years, I was fishing for Skeggs.

CRAWFORD: Fishing for what? 

BETHUNE: Fishing in to Skeggs.

CRAWFORD: What does that mean? 

BETHUNE: Oh, they were a major fishing company. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. All of the way through this time, your partnerships and your contracts changed - but your vessel pretty much stayed the same?

BETHUNE: Stayed exactly the same. 

CRAWFORD: And your fishing pattern pretty much stayed the same as well? When you were doing the split Cray/trawling operation, roughly what was the split between the two of those activities? Was it 50/50 throughout the course of the year? 

BETHUNE: No. Crayfishing was our main living, there’s no two ways about that. But you know, the trawling was virtually only a fill-in in the summer time. But we made our money out of Crays. 

CRAWFORD: So, maybe 80/20?

BETHUNE: Yeah, I’d say it would be yeah. It did finish up ... the later stages, it would be 50/50, when Cray fishing became harder. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly when did that happen? When did Crayfishing start to get hard? 

BETHUNE: Oh, the years escape me. The last seven or eight years I was Crayfishing, it was becoming hard. Just prior to the quota system. 

CRAWFORD: We’re talking early 80’s? When did you stop fishing? 

BETHUNE: 1971, I think.

CRAWFORD:  And that was during the decline in Crayfishing? 

BETHUNE: Yeah. I just missed a boom in the Crayfishing, before when I started. But the year I started as a deckhand, we had a very poor Cray season, and then the following year they fished up again. They do fluctuate. 

CRAWFORD: But at the end ...

BETHUNE: At the end, we had to work more pots, longer hours. And more competition. That might have been '73 I took over my own boat. Yeah, it’d be thereabout. 

CRAWFORD: 1973 until ... when was your last year fishing? 

BETHUNE: I took an early retirement, I think I was 58 when I retired. 

CRAWFORD: 58 - you were born in 40, so that’s to 1998. That was your commercial fishing - almost 30 years?

BETHUNE: Yeah, that’d be right. 

CRAWFORD: And in that 30 years, you were very consistent in terms of geography and gear.

BETHUNE: The only thing that changed in terms of gear ... No, when we first started, we didn’t even have a radio, you know? An old black and white sounder - that was our lot. And a compass. But when we finished it was 'right as' and bloody coloured sounders ... 

CRAWFORD: GPS and all that?

BETHUNE: No, we never got that.

CRAWFORD: No, I guess that was too early for GPS, you wouldn’t have had that. 

BETHUNE: No, they were really early on when I retired. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. 1998, you transition from commercial fishing, you retire. What was the next significant amount of time you were spending on the water? Did you come off the water for a while, or did you go right back into recreational fishing? 

BETHUNE: I never stopped. I was back into recreational. 

CRAWFORD: What kind of vessel were you fishing? 

BETHUNE: When I went back into it for a start, just a 12-foot aluminum dinghy again. Just working back in the breakers here. The one I’ve got now is only a 4.3 metre aluminum pontoon.

CRAWFORD: From the time that went back into recreational fishing, roughly what region were you fishing in these boats? 

BETHUNE: [laughs]. Do I have to tell you that? 

CRAWFORD: Roughly, please. Not specific sites. 

BETHUNE: The same area. But I don’t go to Wangaloa, because the boat's too small. I don’t go through Molyneux Bay. 

CRAWFORD: South of the Nuggets - do you do any fishing there?

BETHUNE: Yeah, yeah. I've got a lot of my fishing done south of the Nuggets. 

CRAWFORD: How far down, roughly? 

BETHUNE: False Islet, max. 

CRAWFORD: That’s an all-day trip, then? 

BETHUNE: Yep. 

CRAWFORD: When you’re fishing now, roughly what kind of water depth range might you be fishing?

BETHUNE: Oh, I don’t go much deeper than about 15 fathoms. 

CRAWFORD: And your seasonality now? 

BETHUNE: Just the same. Blue Cod, whenever I can get off. I find having an aluminum boat in the winter time is too bloody cold to work on. So just summer time now. 

CRAWFORD: If you had to guess, through your retirement period, how many days per week in the summer would you be out? 

BETHUNE: I find its embarrassing the fish you catch. There’s no way we can eat them, so on you go when we’re low on fish. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. How frequently would that be? 

BETHUNE: Once a month max - unless there is a fishing competition on. 

CRAWFORD: Was that fairly consistent, from the late 90s to now?

BETHUNE: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: So, you might go once a month - and it's mainly for food?

BETHUNE: Yeah, only for food. Unless there’s a fishing competition. Like last weekend, I was out two days in a row because of competition. 

CRAWFORD: How many competitions would there be in any given year? 

BETHUNE: About four. 

Copyright © 2017 Barry Bethune and Steve Crawford