Experience: Commercial Fisherman, Cruise Skipper
Regions: Otago, Catlins, Foveaux Strait, Fiordland
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 06 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Dave Taylor and Steve Crawford
1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS
CRAWFORD: Where and when were you born, Dave?
CRAWFORD: What was your first recollection of spending a significant amount of time on or around the ocean?
TAYLOR: Probably 26.
CRAWFORD: Your family didn't spend time on coastal waters when you were a kid? You were an inland boy?
CRAWFORD: And by 26 years old ... you were definitely out of school by then.
TAYLOR: Well out of school. I actually bought a business to get on the water.
CRAWFORD: Really? Where did you relocate to?
TAYLOR: I was in [Waitahuna], where we had a farm. Inland from Milton, down the coast there. Back in the days when we had the financial bloody disaster in NZ, interest rates were 25%+, and I got out of farming. A business came up in Taieri Mouth - to buy a house, buy a fishing shop, and buy a boat.
CRAWFORD: Did you have your Skipper's ticket at the time?
CRAWFORD: So, this was a major overhaul that required not just the purchase of the business, and relocation to a new town, but also a dramatic change in lifestyle. And you still had to get your Skipper's ticket before you could fish commercially?
TAYLOR: When I bought the business, there was a crew on the boat, and he had his Skipper's ticket. So I employed him with his Skipper's ticket, until I got mine.
CRAWFORD: And when did you get your ticket?
TAYLOR: In those days, about three years before you actually got your ticket under the old system.
CRAWFORD: Describe your vessel for me, please.
TAYLOR: The vessel was 39-foot wooden hull trawler, also set up for Codpotting, longlining and the whole lot. Trawling was the basic source of income from it. About 80-90% of the activity was trawling.
CRAWFORD: Were you a day-fisherman? Or did you go for days and weeks at a time?
TAYLOR: Overnight two or three nights, depending how far south we were heading. But mainly day-fishing, due to the fact that we had our own factory on the wharf.
CRAWFORD: Was your range from Taieri Mouth due south? Or did you ever do any fishing up north?
TAYLOR: At different times of the year I could be in Te Waewae Bay down the bottom, mostly south of Nugget Point, Slope Point, Taieri Mouth, Green Island. Winter months heading in to Blueskin Bay, Moeraki, further north - the other side of Port Chalmers.
CRAWFORD: Your 80% trawling - was there a seasonality to that?
TAYLOR: Yes. Most of the trawling would start September-October and go right through, depending on what fish we get, to March-April. And then we'd start sneaking away and get some Cod and Groper quota for the winter. And we'd do a bit of trawling because sometimes you'd hit a bit of fish off the Nuggets during the winter months. But it depended on the fish and the year.
CRAWFORD: Was there also seasonality to where you fished?
TAYLOR: Yes. Down south, November, Te Waewae Bay and we worked our way up. Worked out of Hinahina half the summer, sort of November-December. January-February-March-Apr-May through to Taieri Mouth. And of course, June, July, August - sometime in July we'd pull out of Port Chalmers, and come back down to Te Waewae. But once again, that depended on the fish that was in Port Chalmers at the time.
CRAWFORD: You started fishing at age 26. How long did that pattern run for?
TAYLOR: All the way I was fishing, right up until 2005.
CRAWFORD: From your start to your finish, it was pretty consistent? You didn't change vessels?
CRAWFORD: You didn't change gear, or the distribution of the gear?
CRAWFORD: And you pretty much fished the same regions, same target species, same times?
TAYLOR: Yes, yes. We dropped Te Waewae off every now and then. Depending of what was happening south of the Nuggets. The weather. That was only when it veered a little bit, when we headed that way.
CRAWFORD: Ok. 2005 you got out of the fishery? Completely?
TAYLOR: Yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: Before we transition away from your fishing experience, did you have any time or inclination to do anything else during those years - like boating, swimming, spearfishing or Pāua diving? Anything like that?
TAYLOR: A little bit of diving for Pāua, but that was probably more for fun with free diving. I never really had the inclination to go with tanks or anything like that. I liked it above the water, where I could see better.
CRAWFORD: How often would you have gone free diving, back in the day?
TAYLOR: If I could get four dives in a year for Pāua, that was about it.
CRAWFORD: What did you do after moving out of the commercial fishery? Shift to another job on the water?
TAYLOR: No. I got right out of fishing altogether, and went back to my original trade when I got my Drainlayer's ticket. I actually worked for a company in Dunedin as a Drainlayer - they called me in as a foreman.
CRAWFORD: How long did you do that?
TAYLOR: Until I come here.
CRAWFORD: 'Here' meaning Milford Sound?
CRAWFORD: Ok. What drew you to Milford Sound?
TAYLOR: Getting older. Bones worn out. Enjoyed the theory of the 7-days-on 7-days-off system. And the salt's still in your blood. I just don't know whether that drew me back in, or was it an opportunity? I don't know. But I ended up here, and am enjoying it.
CRAWFORD: Was it a Skipper's job with Cruise Milford first?
CRAWFORD: So, you came up here two years ago, and you've been in that job to date?
TAYLOR: Yes. Cruise Milford started two years ago, and I was one of the two Skippers that come here originally.
CRAWFORD: Describe the vessel for me, please.
TAYLOR: A steel-hulled vessel, built by the government back in the 1980s. It was a cruise ship that cruised up and down the fiords, plus transfers.
CRAWFORD: What's the length?
TAYLOR: Length is 19 metres. Tonnage is 65-70 tonne. Typical cruising speed is 10 knots.
CRAWFORD: In terms of seasonality here in Milford Sound, are you working throughout the year?
TAYLOR: Yes, all year.
CRAWFORD: Is there a seasonal component, in terms of less busy or more busy?
TAYLOR: Yes. November is reasonably quiet. It starts winding up December, right through to Christmas Day, Boxing Day. Then the gates open up with heaps of people. Dies off a little bit end of January, beginning of February. But now it's starting to wind up again. We're busy with boatloads for another month, month and a half. Then we're into the winter season, and it can take a dive. But then it can fluctuate quite a bit, the ski season and so on.
CRAWFORD: Let’s talk winter versus summer. Roughly how many cruises would you do a week during the winter?
TAYLOR: Normally three cruises per day. Unless you get an avalanche, snow road problems ...
CRAWFORD: So, really your cruise schedule doesn't vary that much between the seasons?
TAYLOR: It’s still three cruises a day. Just our numbers change.
CRAWFORD: Ok. That's going to give you about 400 cruises a year, and you've been doing that now for two years. So, you're at about the 1000 cruise mark here in Milford Sound.
TAYLOR: About that.
CRAWFORD: And currently, in terms of boating or yachting - do you do anything like that?
TAYLOR: I still have my own fishing boat back over home, and I probably use it six or seven times a year. But that’s just to get Cod or Groper, whenever I get time.
2. EXPOSURE TO MĀORI/LOCAL/SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS
CRAWFORD: How high would you rank the contribution of Māori culture and knowledge on your understanding of the marine ecosystems here in New Zealand?
TAYLOR: None, really. I don't believe Māori use to do a lot of fishing. In general, the Māoris have had a bit of influence, but since we've had vessels and people sailing, the Māori and the white man's input has all been the same thing.
CRAWFORD: In terms of Science, how much of what you know about marine ecosystems came from Science culture and knowledge?
TAYLOR: It would be quite high, yeah. If you can call it science, I talk to guys like you about what you do. That’s where I learned deep down about what I know.
3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
CRAWFORD: Did the old-timers ever tell you there were places where you fished that were considered to be sharky?
TAYLOR: The old-timers seemed to think that if you found them, they were between Sawyers Bay and around the [Taiaroa] Heads of Dunedin. They reckon they were quite often seen from Nuggets south to Slope Point. I think, where the shelf is closer to the coast, or more rugged terrain - they seemed to be the places where they were.
CRAWFORD: Ok. With regard to Sawyers Bay ... you fished out of Taieri Mouth, but occasionally you fished out of Port Chalmers?
CRAWFORD: And when you say Sawyers Bay, do you mean the inner part of Otago Harbour?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear about anyone seeing White Pointers in Otago Harbour? The outer or the inner harbour?
TAYLOR: KZ-7 was probably the only one, and I'd forgotten all about it until you mentioned it to me. I do remember the old fella, Lewis in there. They thought they were the shark hunters. Whether or not they caught a big fish, I can't remember.
CRAWFORD: Do you recall whether there was any distinction between the inner versus the outer harbour?
TAYLOR: Nothing that I can recall.
CRAWFORD: What about White Pointers north of Otago Peninsula?
TAYLOR: We spent a lot of time in Blueskin Bay, back off out the deeps coming up. We were out in 20 fathoms. So, as far as them coming in to there, we hadn't seen a lot of sharks. Hadn't seen White Pointers I should say, we had seen some sharks. And I had seen a lot of sharks in the later years, in the 2000s.
CRAWFORD: Do you recall the old-timers or your mates ever talking about seeing White Pointers north of the Otago Peninsula?
TAYLOR: No, I didn't really talk to a lot of guys up there. I just knew two or three fishermen, and we worked quietly up in there. There was a couple of old fisherman I did talk to now and then, to say G'day to. But because I was a new guy, an outsider .... I didn't go into the pub and drink with them. I travelled back home.
CRAWFORD: Your home region would have been more from Brighton south?
CRAWFORD: For those guys in that region, including Taieri Mouth, were there particular regions they reckoned it was kind of sharky?
TAYLOR: A lot of the guys that worked out of Taieri Mouth, were the Cray boats, and they worked down as far as Clutha River mouth. A fellow, [Bill Boddy], he Crayfished out of Hinahina south. And me being a trawlerman, I went past there all winter and was seeing things. But these guys were only working as far as the Nuggets. So, them seeing White Pointers ... it’s not something we talked about. We discussed in later years about more sharks being seen, but there was nothing said about White Pointers that I recall.
CRAWFORD: Nothing specific like that?
TAYLOR: A White Pointer wasn't something we expected to see here. We always thought that was an Australian fish. Of course, it’s all really blowing up here now. But there might be a rogue one we would see. There might be more, there might be less.
TAYLOR: Not really, no.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let’s go down to Foveaux Strait, because you fished the southern end of the South Island.
TAYLOR: More Te Waewae Bay, in around there.
CRAWFORD: Did you get to know the guys fishing there as well? Or was it the same kind of thing as Port Chalmers?
TAYLOR: Seasonal for a few months.
CRAWFORD: Never heard about White Pointers in Te Waewae Bay either?
CRAWFORD: Back in the day when you were fishing, did you ever hear about White Pointers around Stewart Island?
CRAWFORD: The issue just never came up?
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let’s focus on the time you've spent in Milford Sound. When you started working here two years ago, since then have you spent any significant amount of time south or north of here?
TAYLOR: I went on a trip on a boat down here, bringing a boat back from the west coast.
CRAWFORD: A coastal. Those are once a season?
TAYLOR: Not even that. I've only been twice in my life.
CRAWFORD: Ok then, let’s focus on Milford Sound specifically. I think we reckoned you had done approximately 1000 cruises over your two years working here?
CRAWFORD: And you have not seen a White Pointer in Milford Sound?
CRAWFORD: Have you ever heard about White Pointers in Milford Sound?
TAYLOR: There's a story about a White Pointer that was eating a Seal, but that was a little bit vague. Maybe a story to tell. But no, I've never seen a shark in here.
CRAWFORD: In terms of anything that you might have heard regarding White Pointers along the west coast generally? The guys that are going further south or north from here - any indication that White Pointers would occasionally be seen?
TAYLOR: We don't actually relate to the fisherman here at all. We use to meet them when we had the pub here, but we haven't got that now, so we don't hear those stories. As far as seeing anything of White Pointers or any sharks on this side? No.
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: What was your first recollection of either hearing about or seeing a White Pointer in the wild?
TAYLOR: Loss of gear.
CRAWFORD: So, these animals weren't on your radar prior to commercial fishing?
CRAWFORD: Ok. What kind of gear did you have deployed?
TAYLOR: We were fishing down south of the Nuggets, down Long Point, Slope Point, right out through there. In those days, we were using danlines and pots. We were mainly using danlines to catch Groper, and Codpots to catch Blue Cod. In those days, there was never a lot of money. For buoys, we were using containers, anything you could get your hands on. You would go away for a while, and at first I knew I had five lines in, and I come back and it was two left! I couldn't figure what in the hell happened to those lines. And I said "Right, then. I'll set up another line." I ran into an old fella by the name of Bernie Hill, he was a commercial fisherman. I fished with him for quite a few years. And when I fished with Bernie, we lost a line and he turned around and said to me "Yeah, there's a White out there somewhere." I said "Would he be pinching my line?" He said "Yes, he's on the catch." He said "Go and buoy them up, and see what happens." So, we started putting on big buoys - about a metre wide. We had two on it, and I actually watched one disappear. I chased him. I could get seven knots out, and I couldn't keep up with him. And it took a dive, and I couldn't catch up with him ...
CRAWFORD: Metre-wide floats?
TAYLOR: Two of them went down.
CRAWFORD: That’s a big fish. That’s a big something.
TAYLOR: We didn't actually see it at the time. It wasn't until about a year after, when we actually did see him. He came up, and I would reckon he'd be 25-30 foot long. We could see him at the surface. Bernie told me he seen him before. Two years later he was gone. We lost a wee bit of gear after that, and he was gone. Never seen him or lost gear again.
CRAWFORD: Let’s rewind a little bit. When you first lost your gear, roughly where were you?
TAYLOR: We were reasonably close in. I think the first gear I lost was down on Slope Point. Close on a mile and a half off.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Roughly what time of year?
CRAWFORD: Do you remember what year this was, roughly?
TAYLOR: Mid-90s, early-90s. Somewhere in that period of time, when we started losing the gear.
CRAWFORD: What depth?
TAYLOR: Between 30-50 fathom.
CRAWFORD: Fairly deep.
CRAWFORD: When you first lost your gear - it was just gone. Then you talked to Bernie, and Bernie suggested it might have been a White Pointer?
CRAWFORD: And then you loaded up with the bigger floats.
CRAWFORD: How long had you fished with those bigger floats, before they got taken?
TAYLOR: It was about a year later. Or might have been one that year. But within that time, we seen them disappear - when we knew they were moving quick and going down.
CRAWFORD: Roughly same season, same place?
TAYLOR: Yes, same time of year.
CRAWFORD: We can't be sure it was the same animal, but this brings up an important thing that comes out in the interviews. Some people reckon there are animals that move through, and there are animals that reside, at least temporarily, maybe for a spell, sometimes long-term. Sometimes residency where the animals go away and come back to the same place the next year. I'm gathering from what you said, that you're inclined to believe that this animal came back to that same place?
TAYLOR: Talking to Bernie and other people ... prior to that they had seen it there before. Just with me losing this gear, and I asked him what causes it. I thought you can't have Groper that big. But when they start pulling big buoys down, there's something big.
CRAWFORD: Before we get to Bernie, was there any indication that this animal was selectively taking fish off the line? Were you pulling up heads?
TAYLOR: Yes. Further out we did. But we put a lot of that down to Sevengillers, because we actually caught a lot of Sevengillers on the line. Only this one time in this area that we were losing the gear and not retrieving it again.
CRAWFORD: And you would think that it’s extremely unlikely that a Sevengiller would be able to take down two big floats like that?
TAYLOR: No, I'm not saying it couldn't be a big Sevengiller but ...
CRAWFORD: Sevengillers. You've seen your share?
TAYLOR: I've caught them all over the damn place.
CRAWFORD: They've interacted with your gear, they've taken fish off your lines?
CRAWFORD: What's the biggest Sevengiller you've seen?
TAYLOR: Probably eight foot. A bit taller than I am. I wouldn't say it was a big one, but for the time of year we fished, it probably was.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let’s talk about Bernie. He was an old-timer?
TAYLOR: Well, I suppose he's in his 80s now.
CRAWFORD: He took you under his wing? He was kind of teaching you?
TAYLOR: It was in his area. You got a fella like that, you start talking to him and treating him right. There's fishermen that would tell you, and there's fishermen that wouldn't tell you anything, because they thought you were the enemy. But then some day they found out you worked good together. And you worked together, and you were catching fish, and we had time to talk, and you know - we all gotta make a living.
CRAWFORD: I'm interested to know what Bernie had to say about the White Pointers. Did he say that there was any kind of pattern, in terms of time or season?
TAYLOR: Not really. Just I asked him why one of these buoys would have gone missing. And he said that’s what happened to your gear. I wouldn't know how long it would have been there or anything.
CRAWFORD: Did you get the sense that Bernie thought that these animals would be resident? That they would come back to a place?
TAYLOR: Probably, yeah. What he said was that'll be the Pointer that stays out here every now and then. He didn't see it right then, but he knew. He never confirmed if he actually did see it.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, you got lost gear. Then you've lost gear and the big floats. And then you actually saw the animal ...
CRAWFORD: And that was two years after the first incident?
TAYLOR: Yeah. That'd be two years after when we lost the big set of gear.
CRAWFORD: Roughly the same place, same time of year, all that?
TAYLOR: Yes, yes. I have lost some off Chasland's Mistake, which isn't that much further down the coast. You're in the same Nuggets-Chaslands area.
CRAWFORD: When you saw that first White Pointer, what were the circumstances, and what did you see?
TAYLOR: Just a clear day. We were sitting there - drifting, cleaning. And we noticed him come up beside us, and that was it. He just disappeared. I never seen it again.
CRAWFORD: It didn't circle around?
TAYLOR: No. Just came up alongside us, and just took off again.
TAYLOR: From what I recall, he just came up behind us while we were standing there cleaning gear.
CRAWFORD: A drive-by?
CRAWFORD: Did you get the impression that the animal was there because ...
TAYLOR: He looked at us. You looked over the side, and you could see his eyeball, and he was looking at us.
CRAWFORD: Did it come up to the surface, and kind of roll a little bit?
CRAWFORD: Was the eye out of the water?
TAYLOR: Who knows? We were standing at the centre of the boat then! [laughs]
CRAWFORD: Ok. [laughs]
TAYLOR: A lot of people in New Zealand say "What does a White Pointer look like when you see them under the water?" We've seen a lot of Sevengillers floating around, and until you've actually seen one right beside, and you see the colour of it - you can't identify it.
CRAWFORD: That's a challenge even for a pro?
CRAWFORD: In your 25 years of commercial fishing, how many White Pointers total have you seen?
CRAWFORD: You've told me about the one that was taking your gear over at the Nuggets. Please tell me about the other incident.
TAYLOR: The other was in a shark net.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when was this?
CRAWFORD: Was this when you went out with Graeme Fraser, when he had a contract to tend the Dunedin City Council shark nets?
CRAWFORD: What did you see?
TAYLOR: I remember just seeing it. It had been chewing on the shark net.
CRAWFORD: Roughly how big was it?
TAYLOR: Wasn't that big, if I can remember rightly.
CRAWFORD: Are we talking three or four metres?
TAYLOR: Six or seven feet.
CRAWFORD: Definitely on the small side?
TAYLOR: Yeah, it wasn't a big one. I was quite surprised.
CRAWFORD: That's important for us. Understanding where the little ones are - especially the juveniles, which are quite a bit smaller ...
TAYLOR: And where they come from.
CRAWFORD: It’s all part of the puzzle.
Copyright © 2017 Dave Taylor and Steve Crawford