Experience: Marine Ecologist, Fishery Scientist, Diver
Regions: Otago, Marlborough Sound, Catlins, Fiordland, Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 29 January 2016
Post Date: 16 Sep 2017; Copyright © 2017 Bob Street and Steve Crawford
1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS
CRAWFORD: Bob, when were you born and where?
STREET: On the 25th of March, 1930 in Wellington. Spent most of my youth up to my 21st brought up in the Hutt Valley, and then I went up to Victoria University for a few years and did a Bachelor's degree.
CRAWFORD: As a young kid, did you spend a lot amount of time on or around the water?
STREET: Not particularly, no.
CRAWFORD: When you started to go to university, what program or subjects, were you involved in?
STREET: It was biological sciences - zoology and botany.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when was that? How old were you?
STREET: Well, I didn’t go straight to university from school, I worked in the forestry for a while, and in the freezer works, and building up a bit of cash, so I’d be able to complete the degree. I finished at Victoria when I was 23.
CRAWFORD: What did you do after you got your BSc degree in biology?
STREET: I worked for about 18 months as the fisheries inspector in the northern part of the South Island. It was a fill-in job until a position came up in Dunedin doing fisheries management and research work in southern New Zealand - Otago and Southland.
CRAWFORD: For the 18 months that you were a fisheries inspector, was that working for a Crown agency, what would become of Ministry of Primary Industries?
STREET: No. Those days, it was the Marine Department.
CRAWFORD: Up north, was that working in the Cook Strait region, or was it further offshore?
CRAWFORD: And was that fill-in job throughout the year or seasonal?
STREET: Throughout the year, yes.
CRAWFORD: What types of fisheries were you inspecting?
STREET: The main fisheries at that time were trawling for finfish mainly Snapper, and potting for Rock Lobster. And in those days, actually there was a whaling station at the entrance to Tory Channel fronting Cook Strait.
CRAWFORD: Yes, I’ve heard about that facility. After the 18 months, you relocated to Dunedin? And the new job - was it still with the Marine Department?
STREET: Still with the Marine Department, that’s correct.
CRAWFORD: What were your responsibilities when you took the job here in Dunedin?
STREET: It was covering all fisheries really. Trawl fisheries, Rock Lobster, Oyster fisheries. [laughs] Scratching the surface is what I’m saying, because that’s quite a massive job.
CRAWFORD: At the age of about 25 years, in this new job, were you involved in the management side of things? Or as a biologist, were you out in the field most of the time?
STREET: Yes, I was out in the field most of the time. But most of the reports went to Wellington, and in those days there was the fisheries research department that was based in Wellington. There was a fisheries management division in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. They had fisheries biologist who were looking at the respective fisheries in the areas, and of course all of the reports went to Wellington.
CRAWFORD: How long did you work in that capacity? Out of Dunedin?
STREET: Well, the Marine Department was broken up about 1970, so then it became the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
CRAWFORD: Did your job description change when the Ministry got reorganized?
STREET: Not really. But I left the Ministry in 1986 when I was 56, because the job became less fieldwork-orientated, which didn’t suit me so much. I did work for several aspects of the industry, Rock Lobster, Pāua, Flatfish and Oysters.
CRAWFORD: As a private consultant?
CRAWFORD: For the period that you were working for the various Ministries, when you were based out of Dunedin, when you were in the field - what types of things were you doing?
STREET: I was finding out basic information, like migration patterns of some fish species, be it the growth rate, the density, the effects of fishing on the stocks. Basic information that was necessary for fisheries management. Also, I concentrated very heavily on direct underwater observation, and I did a lot of diving. All the way from Fiordland, Foveaux Strait in particular - there on the Oyster population and Rock Lobster populations in Otago and Fiordland. A lot of tagging work was done. There wasn’t much done about migration patterns and growth rates in those days, which are two essential things to know.
CRAWFORD: In terms of the time you spent on the water, would it have been a mix - some of the time with the fleet on their boats, and some of the time on research vessels or non-fishing vessels, so that you could go other places to collect other types of data?
STREET: Pretty well entirely on commercial fishing boats.
CRAWFORD: I'm guessing you had a very good, extensive relationship through a very broad network of commercial fishermen, back in the day?
STREET: Exactly, yes.
CRAWFORD: That’s important because it's not just what you knew from the work you were doing. But you also spoke with the other fellows and heard what they knew - they would naturally share with you, and it would go back and forth.
STREET: The commercial fishermen obviously were very, very interested in what was turning up from their fishery. But what was actually on the bottom, in terms of the population density, the type of sea bottom, and a lot of this, was complemented with showing them underwater still shots or video recordings.
CRAWFORD: When you were out on the water, and you were working on commercial fishing boats, was there a seasonality to the time you were out there? Or was it through all seasons?
STREET: Basically, through all seasons. It just depended what was on the go.
CRAWFORD: Roughly how many days a month would you have been out on the water, as opposed to in the office?
STREET: I don’t know I can put a figure on that.
CRAWFORD: Would it be maybe 15 days per month, half of your time spent out on the water?
STREET: No, it wouldn’t have been that much, because the weather was often a determining factor.
CRAWFORD: So, when you take weather into account, maybe one week per month?
STREET: Yeah, I suppose about a quarter of the time.
CRAWFORD: But still a substantial amount of time, and over a very long period of time. Because you came down in 1955, and you worked in that job until 1986. That’s about 30 years.
STREET: Yes. Since I left the Department, I’ve been doing equally as much fieldwork.
CRAWFORD: Did you work around the coast of Stewart island? Like the Southwest Cape?
STREET: Yes, I’ve been there. Not so extensively at Stewart Island timewise, as it would have been in Fiordland. Basically, most of the time in Otago, including the Catlins.
CRAWFORD: Come 1986, you leave the Department and start working as a private consultant, still on fisheries science. Who were your major clients?
STREET: The Bluff Oyster industry, and the Rock Lobster industry in Otago. They were the two major ones.
CRAWFORD: At the age of 85, are you still spending time out in the field?
CRAWFORD: For the Rock Lobster fishery, where do they do most of their harvesting?
STREET: Both north and south Otago.
CRAWFORD: And is the Bluff Oyster industry mostly based in the Foveaux Strait?
STREET: Yes. I have done work for the Pāua industry too. I’m still doing work on Pāua, just probably not necessarily involved in the industry as such. But they are interested in the work I’m doing. I’m able to keep my cost down a lot on these projects. I do a lot of work with no financial return. But it's ok, it's my hobby. It always has been. I do eat a lot of seafood, because my work does involve me gathering a bit of seafood.
CRAWFORD: if I could be so bold as to correct you, I think this is much more than a hobby. It sounds like a passion to me.
STREET: Oh, very much so. That might be better, you know.
CRAWFORD: From the time you became a private consultant, if you were spending time on or under the water, what regions would you have focussed on?
STREET: At the moment, it is a Pāua re-seeding project in the Catlins area in South Otago. A major project is Oyster re-seeding in Foveaux Strait. Also monitoring the Rock Lobster fishery on the southeast coast.
CRAWFORD: You mentioned before about doing quite a bit of diving. When did you start seriously diving - with any significant amount of time? Roughly, how old were you?
STREET: I didn’t start that early. I was in my late 20s, about 27.
CRAWFORD: And at that time scuba was reasonably new technology that you picked up?
CRAWFORD: When you went scuba diving, where would you go?
STREET: Right through the whole southern area of New Zealand. I’ve done very little diving in the North Island.
CRAWFORD: So, it was mostly in South Island, but very broad geographically - wherever you were working?
STREET: Where I was working. Yeah.
CRAWFORD: On top of the work that you did in association with commercial fisheries, and the scuba diving work that you were involved in - did you spend any significant amount of time on or around the water for recreational time? Like fishing or boating or anything like that?
STREET: A little bit, but not that much. It was a time factor, really. I never had time. I had done a bit of spearfishing in my younger days. My activities were always more orientated towards commercial activities.
CRAWFORD: You were either focussed on the harvesting, or you needed samples, or something like that?
STREET: Yes, and also communicating with the fishermen. They were always curious - particularly with Rock Lobsters and Oysters. What the situation was actually on the bottom - in relation to what they were catching.
Copyright © 2017 Bob Street and Steve Crawford