Experience: Commercial Fisherman
Regions: Otago, Catlins
Interview Location: Taieri Mouth, NZ
Interview Date: 26 January 2016
Post Date: 14 September 2017; Copyright © 2017 Graeme Fraser and Steve Crawford
1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS
CRAWFORD: Graeme, I think you said in the introduction that you were born in 1947?
CRAWFORD: In Dunedin?
CRAWFORD: What’s the first recollection you have, the age where you first started spending a lot of time around the water?
FRASER: I started going out with me Father before I went to school. Must’ve been only about four.
CRAWFORD: Your Dad was a fisherman?
CRAWFORD: Where did he fish out of?
CRAWFORD: And if you were four years old roughly, when you first recall spending a lot of time on the water with him, that would have been Taieri Mouth then?
CRAWFORD: What kind of boat did he have?
FRASER: Used to dabble in linefishing and Crayfishing. Double-ended wooden boat, 41 foot.
CRAWFORD: What kind of motor on it?
FRASER: He had an old Bollander engine in it.
CRAWFORD: Was he strictly a day-fisherman?
CRAWFORD: And what region of water would he fish on a regular basis?
CRAWFORD: When he was handlining, what were the target species?
FRASER: Groper and Blue Cod.
CRAWFORD: 50:50? Or did he care, just as long as he was getting one or the other?
FRASER: Taking Groper. Probably like 70 percent Groper.
CRAWFORD: Ok. In terms of the season for Crayfish versus the season for Groper and Blue Cod, was there a period of time when it was primarily Crayfish?
FRASER: Yes, it was Crayfish from June right through to about March. And linefishing was really from December to June, and then later on he started trawling. Trawling was in between, when there was no Crayfish. If it wasn't Crayfish season, he’d probably go trawling. And then he’d go trawling when there’s no Groper. Trawling was the filler.
CRAWFORD: Ok. In the early days, when you were very young, you would go out on day-trips with your Dad?
CRAWFORD: Roughly how often would that happen as a kid?
FRASER: I used to go out on the weekends, probably once a month, maybe a couple of times - a couple of days a month.
CRAWFORD: As a kid did you spend time on the water doing other things? Swimming or boarding or fishing with your mates Pāua harvesting - anything like that?
FRASER: Oh yeah. I had a dinghy of me own. I used to use it around the river for trapfishing. And we used to go Pāua fish - diving for Pāua down at that island there.
CRAWFORD: Which island?
FRASER: Taieri Island.
CRAWFORD: Roughly how old were you when you were ok to be off on your own, without adult supervision - that kind of thing?
FRASER: Oh, probably from about seven or eight years old.
CRAWFORD: And you had access to that dinghy?
FRASER: Yeah, as long as I ... they wouldn’t let me have it until I could swim. [chuckles]
CRAWFORD: Did you take swimming lessons, or just learn by yourself how to swim?
FRASER: Just learned.
CRAWFORD: When you were off on your own, what region would you be exploring or doing things? How far north or south from the river mouth?
CRAWFORD: At some point in time, you’re going to get keys to the boat or keys to the car, and your range along the coast is going to expand. When did that happen, roughly? What age?
FRASER: Well, I went fishing with me Father when I was 17. And I got me own boat, we built a boat, when I was 20 years old.
CRAWFORD: So, at the age of 17 you were fishing full-time with your Dad?
CRAWFORD: The same region? Pretty much same gear, same cycle?
CRAWFORD: And then at the age of 20, you build a boat - or you had a boat built?
FRASER: Well, we had a boat built.
CRAWFORD: And who’s 'we'? You and your Dad, or you and a partner, or what?
FRASER: Me and my Wife, yeah.
CRAWFORD: And what was the size of that boat?
FRASER: 29 foot. Fiberglass it was, the Karitane design, they built about 15 of them. It was called the Marina.
CRAWFORD: You said that was around 1969?
FRASER: '69, yes - when we launched it.
CRAWFORD: What were you geared up for?
FRASER: Crayfish, and linefishing and trawling.
CRAWFORD: So pretty much the same setup as your Dad’s boat. Now you’ve got your skipper’s ticket, and you’ve got your own boat, and you’re out fishing the same gear in the same waters?
CRAWFORD: Same season and everything?
CRAWFORD: Was your Dad still fishing at that time?
CRAWFORD: So now there were two boats in the family?
FRASER: I also went setnetting.
CRAWFORD: When did you start setnetting - right away?
FRASER: Practically, yeah.
CRAWFORD: What were you setnetting for?
FRASER: For School Shark and Rig.
CRAWFORD: Were there particular places where you would setnet?
FRASER: Nah, just outside the bay, not far from the river mouth, probably five miles each way.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Roughly what kind of mesh size were you setnetting with?
FRASER: 6-7 inch.
CRAWFORD: What was the next major thing that changed, either in terms of boat or gear or location?
FRASER: In 1975 I sold the Marina, and bought a bigger boat, the Quest.
CRAWFORD: How big was that?
FRASER: 33 foot.
CRAWFORD: Is that a two-man boat?
FRASER: Yes. I got a buddy from Stewart island, and we put a trawl on it as well. We did a bit of night trawling as well.
CRAWFORD: How far did you go with that boat?
CRAWFORD: When did you start fishing further beyond the Otago Peninsula? Up towards Karitane, Shag Point area?
FRASER: Mainly in the wintertime, when the weather was no good because of our bay here at Taieri Mouth. We fished out of Port Chalmers, because you can come and go all hours of the night.
FRASER: And we’d go anytime. We’d done a lot of trawling up there, and then I went Crayfishing along the coast here from Karitane up to Pleasant River.
CRAWFORD: When you were night-fishing, that included trawling?
CRAWFORD: What were the target fish then?
FRASER: Mainly Soles, Elephant Fish, Rig, and Tarakihi.
CRAWFORD: What kind of depths typically would you be trawling?
FRASER: We went out to about 37 fathom.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, not that deep?
CRAWFORD: And that was primarily in the summer, if I hear you right?
CRAWFORD: And you fished in the winter out at Port Chalmers if the weather wasn’t suitable?
CRAWFORD: Ok. So that's 1975. What's the next important development in terms of boat, or gear or activity - what’s the next major change?
FRASER: Well, I sold the Quest in 1995. I bought a faster boat, a 30-footer. I bought it mainly to look after the shark nets, the contract.
CRAWFORD: When did your contract with DCC [Dunedin City Council] for the shark nets start?
FRASER: Oh, I took it over in 1996.
CRAWFORD: And how long did you run that contract?
FRASER: Twelve years.
CRAWFORD: When you started doing that contract for DCC, how much of your time on the water was devoted to the DCC shark nets versus doing other fishing that you were already doing? What was that split?
FRASER: The contract stated that they had to be tended three times a week, and it usually took about six hours to put up and reset the six nets - unless there’d been a big storm and they were all tangled.
CRAWFORD: At the time, would you have been coming out of Taieri Mouth? Or would you be coming out of Port Chalmers?
FRASER: Taieri Mouth.
CRAWFORD: So, you’ve got transit time up to the nets?
CRAWFORD: Then six hours working on them, three times a week. So that was about 50% of your time on the water, taken up with the DCC nets?
FRASER: Sounds right.
CRAWFORD: What was the season for the nets? When did the nets go in?
FRASER: First of December, till the end of February.
CRAWFORD: And that ran from 1996 until when?
FRASER: 12 years, so it’d be 2008.
CRAWFORD: And 2008 was the end of the DCC shark net program?
FRASER: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: In 2009 you went back full-time doing what you were regularly doing as a fisherman?
FRASER: Yes. I bought another boat then. I bought the Mary Ann in 2001. A 40-footer, trawler. From then on, I fished the wee boat Crayfishing until about 1991, until I bought the Mary Ann - then we Crayfished in that boat and trawled.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, that was a change in vessels, overlapping when you were working the DCC nets?
FRASER: Yes. I got rid of the wee boat because in the off-season we were Crayfishing and doing a bit of Blue Cod fishing. But the Crayfishing, they bad years so we had to get a trawler to fill in. The time when we weren’t doing the nets. So, we did the shark nets in the Mary Ann for 5-6 years.
CRAWFORD: There were some weak years for Crayfishing, one after another. The Blue Cod - were they relatively stable throughout?
CRAWFORD: I think you said at the beginning it was handlining for Blue Cod?
FRASER: Handlining for Blue Cod, and longlining and danlining for the Groper.
CRAWFORD: Longline is horizontal, danline is vertical?
CRAWFORD: Did you at any time switch over to Codpots?
CRAWFORD: Roughly when was that?
FRASER: We started Codpotting in '96.
CRAWFORD: And you didn’t really use handlining after that? You never went back?
CRAWFORD: Ok. I think we’re up to 2009 - that was your fist year not working the DCC nets?
FRASER: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: You were back to travelling and doing normal day-fishing out of Taieri Mouth?
CRAWFORD: And you ran that way until the present, or was there some other kind of break in there as well?
FRASER: No, right up to the present. When we got the Mary Ann, we started fishing mainly between St. Clair and the Nuggets. We used to go down to Nuggets, stay one or two days.
CRAWFORD: Did you have a freezer on the boat?
FRASER: Well, an ice hold.
CRAWFORD: Ok. But you were spending less time past the Otago Peninsula. You’d fish St Clair, down to the Nuggets? Not so much around the peninsula, Warrington, Karitane?
FRASER: Only in the wintertime, we’d go to Port Chalmers. Probably for three or four months, until the days got longer and we could work the area better. You can’t work Taieri Mouth in the dark unless it’s a good moon - a nice moon and it’s calm.
CRAWFORD: Is that based on just being able to read the bar?
FRASER: Yeah. Because it adjusts all the time, and there’s no markers.
CRAWFORD: And now, I think you said something about being semi- retired?
FRASER: Well, the boat’s still running now.
CRAWFORD: You’re the owner, but you’ve got somebody else with a skipper’s ticket running that boat?
CRAWFORD: And when did that start? Last year?
FRASER: No, just last month.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, officially you’re semi-retired if someone else is running your boat.
FRASER: Yeah. I go out some days. Just the other day, when he was off.
CRAWFORD: And that brings us up to the present?
2. EXPOSURE TO MĀORI/LOCAL/SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS
CRAWFORD: To what extent has Māori culture and knowledge affected your understanding of the New Zealand marine ecosystem? How would you rank that influence?
CRAWFORD: If you had to rank the Science contribution to your knowledge of the marine ecosystem, how would you rank that?
FRASER: Oh, high.
CRAWFORD: Why would you rank that high?
FRASER: You see it on the television.
CRAWFORD: You actively watch - and if something comes on about science and the marine ecosystem, you’ll pay attention to that?
CRAWFORD: Through all of your work as a commercial fisherman, did you ever have meetings with MPI [Ministry for Primary Industries] or quota meetings where science would come in?
FRASER: Not to do with sharks.
CRAWFORD: Don’t worry about sharks in particular, but in terms of the general marine ecosystem - did you deal with scientists in fisheries management?
FRASER: Yeah, I’ve been to those kinds of meetings.
3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
CRAWFORD: What was the first time that you remember hearing about, or seeing, a White Pointer?
FRASER: First time I heard about the White Pointers is when the shark attacks occurred at St. Kilda and St. Clair, 1964-65, I think. A fellow named Jordan got attacked.
CRAWFORD: That was the very first attack in the region?
CRAWFORD: And your old man was fishing here at the time?
FRASER: Well, we used to have a problem with sharks when we were linefishing, but we never knew what sort of shark it was. You just pull your line up, and the fish would be bitten in half.
CRAWFORD: You never saw any of the sharks following all the way up to the surface?
FRASER: The only sharks that I ever saw around the boat were Sevengillers and Blue Sharks.
CRAWFORD: You ever seen any Makos come up as you were fishing handlines?
FRASER: Yeah, I saw them. Yes.
CRAWFORD: So, Makos were around, Sevengillers ... Did you reckon that Blue Sharks would be taking your fish that way?
FRASER: Never saw them, but I remember one day a Groper got off the line, and it was floating bedside the boat. Me Father went over to grab it by the tail, and this shark went past and bit it in half - just as he was grabbing it. I can’t remember what sort of shark it was. It was a long time ago. I was only young. I said "I’m not going to stick my hand in the water."
CRAWFORD: I bet not. But the idea is, you could be reasonably confident there was a shark that was taking off the bodies of the fish that you were bringing up - the ones where you were getting just heads. But you didn’t see it happen, so you didn’t know which kind sharks were doing that?
FRASER: No. We would anchor on a rock, and we’d be linefishing for Groper and just sending burley out. And you’d be getting Blue Cod and Sea Perch and the odd Groper, and then all of a sudden fishing would go dead. And often, the next thing - cromp, there’d be a big fish on there. And we always understood it would be a shark, because all the other fish would be gone.
FRASER: And your line would be going, but we never saw it. We'd be trying to stop it, and you’d bust a line.
CRAWFORD: What kind of line were you using?
FRASER: Used to be 8 mil cord, good braid.
CRAWFORD: So, it was a big fish to break that line?
FRASER: Yeah, yeah.
CRAWFORD: You said something about burleying? Why were you burleying at that time?
FRASER: Well, we were chucking burley over, the chum they’d call it, in the sea to bring the Groper in. And it would drift away from the boat with the tide, because you were anchored. And then you’d start getting Groper. When we started catching Groper, we’d always cut them open to see what they’d been eating - and they’d be eating the burley. So, they’d follow the burley trail up to your line.
CRAWFORD: Did other fishermen that were targeting Groper - did they burley as well?
FRASER: Yes. And they’d been lured, the shark would arrive as well.
CRAWFORD: Let’s go back. I think I need a bit more clarification. If I remember correctly, Groper was the primary fish that you were going after for danlining and longlining.
FRASER: Yeah. And other times we would go and set the danline or longline, and find a bit of a rock on the sand there, and then we would just go into the tide a wee bit and chuck the burley all over. So we’d sort of place the boat above the rock. If the tide was right, you’d try and get the boat on the south end of the rock and then start putting burley over, just chopping up fish.
FRASER: We got Sea Perch, and I would chop them up and put them over there.
CRAWFORD: And you got sharks following the burley trail coming to the boat?
FRASER: Well, yeah. You’d start catching Groper, and then Blue Cod and Sea Perch. Anything else other than Groper and Blue Cod, you chuck them over, and they’d get taken away with the tide. And then, most of the time you’d catch a few Groper. And if there was a shark in the area, it would all go dead. No bites.
FRASER: I mean, the shark would grab hold of the bait. Another reason why we used to open the Groper up, and see what they’d been eating, because a lot of the time they feed on Squid. So, we’d take the Squid, and put in on the hook and put it back down.
CRAWFORD: Yeah. In terms of the fish, when you had what you reckoned was a shark taking the line and going, you said you never really saw it. What about sharks that would come up and maybe show some interest in the boat, or circle the boat, or come up to the stern while you were burleying - anything like that?
FRASER: Yeah. They’d probably follow the line up when you’re pulling up fish. And you see them, you see them coming up.
CRAWFORD: And what kind of sharks did you see following the line?
FRASER: Blue Sharks and Sevengillers, we used to call them Shovelbacks. Very powerful jaws. Strong. Especially when we used to get them in the shark nets,
CRAWFORD: We’ll get to that in a second. Let’s just be clear, did you danline and longline with your Dad?
CRAWFORD: And did you burley then, as well?
FRASER: We would shoot the longline across the tide. It would have to be good weather. And as we went, we'd be chucking out burley. Because we had about 150 hooks on each line.
CRAWFORD: And would that be distributed along this same stretch - Nuggets up to St. Clair?
FRASER: Longlining was usually from off the Taieri Island down to about Toko Mouth.
CRAWFORD: That was your longlining and danlining region?
CRAWFORD: And that’s where you’d be burleying, in association with longlining.
CRAWFORD: And you didn’t really do so much longline or danline fishing up towards the peninsula?
FRASER: No. It's not the same bottom up there, either.
CRAWFORD: Back in the day, when you were a youngster, did the old-timers ever kind of tell you "You've got to be careful when you’re out there in a dinghy, at certain times of day, or times of the year." Anything like that?
FRASER: Not really.
CRAWFORD: Was there anything else by any of the old-timers, any of the locals, with regard to what they had seen about White Pointers?
FRASER: Not really. But I know that the old-timers, they all used to talk about taking a big pole with a shark knife on the end of it. And if they were hassled by a shark when they were linefishing, they’d be able to give it a poke with that.
CRAWFORD: Was there anybody else that was fishing, or recreational fishermen, boarders or anybody else along this stretch, that you heard ever saw a White Pointer?
FRASER: Not really. But in the summer, when it’s hot weather, and you’re heading around trawling around, you see sharks. But if you go over to them, they usually just disappear. A lot of Blue Sharks swimming on the top, I find.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Last question for this section. When you think about New Zealand coastal waters, and you think about where White Pointers aggregate, North and South Island, all the way around. What places do you think of?
FRASER: I think of down Stewart Island, and in the [Foveaux] Strait down there. And the attacks we’ve had here in the past. I sold my boat, my first boat, to people who lived at Colac Bay. They fished out around Centre Island and I can remember them telling me about the White Pointers out there. They Crayfished and linefished there. Yeah.
CRAWFORD: But compare that to the experience that you and your Dad and others who have spent a lot of time on the waters around Taieri Mouth - not so much around here? A spate of interactions and attacks closer to the peninsula, but afterwards not so much?
FRASER: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Tell me what you knew about the attacks that took place around the Otago Peninsula.
FRASER: I can’t remember now. I think it was Jordan was the first one. There were three attacks. At the beaches, and then there was one, another fatal one, off the Mole [at Aramoana].
CRAWFORD: What did you hear about those attacks? Did you hear of anybody, or did you talk to anybody who knew anything about the nature of the attacks - what happened at the time?
FRASER: No, not really. There was one guy that was attacked when he was young, and he was a taxi driver and I talked to him. I can’t remember his name. His board was munched. He was really young at the time. But he didn’t really want to talk about it.
CRAWFORD: That’s something that comes up. It had a big effect on people. But here you are, you’re just a drive down the road from the attacks, and you’re a fisherman - you spend your life on the water.
FRASER: Well, we never took much notice of them. Just thought "Oh well, out there swimming amongst them. Well, you’re in their backyard." It never made us any more aware of sharks.
CRAWFORD: Having that number of attacks in a fairly short distance from each other, over a fairly short period of time - why, do you figure?
FRASER: Well, when they had those attacks ... after that they started the shark net program in 1971. And they caught several. I don’t know how many White Pointers but the chap, John Malcom, he had one in a net and these two guys went out from the surf club, on paddle surf skins are they? And they came alongside his boat, and they said "That’s a big one!" And Johnny says "There’s another one swimming around over there." And he said the two guys didn’t know whether to jump into the boat, but they went straight back to the land. One of them fellows lives at Brighton, Dave McPhee. So, they saw two that day. One in the net, another swimming around. And then after Johnny, I don’t know, you’d have to go see Johnny, lives at Palmerston. After they caught whatever of those White Pointers up there, never got another one. Never caught another one since 1971.
CRAWFORD: When I asked what you or the rest of the fishermen thought about the attacks, why did you go immediately to the nets? What was your thinking there?
FRASER: Well, I think that those sharks were probably territorial, or they come there every year, in the summertime, to feed on whatever they do.
CRAWFORD: Do you think that possibly it was those sharks in the nets that had been responsible for the attacks?
FRASER: Well there hasn't been another attack since they caught them.
CRAWFORD: You just mentioned animals that might come back to the same place over time. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the next year ... but you also talked about territoriality. Did you ever see or hear from anybody, about migration in the sense that they recognized an individual White Pointer - maybe it had a scar pattern or a clip on the fin - but they recognized that animal as a specific individual later on as well?
FRASER: Well, the only one I ever heard of from the guys in the runabouts, going out to Port Chalmers - they used to see this big shark out on the heads and they called it KZ-7.
CRAWFORD: Yes. I'm learning that KZ-7 was famous.
CRAWFORD: Did you fish out of Port Chalmers while people were seeing KZ-7?
FRASER: Yeah, but I never saw it.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see any White Pointers immediately around the peninsula?
CRAWFORD: Based on what you heard, people recognized KZ-7 as an individual fish? Was it just the size that caused them to think it was the same fish?
FRASER: The size, yeah.
CRAWFORD: Or did it have any markings or anything else?
FRASER: Not sure.
CRAWFORD: Do you know why they called it KZ-7?
FRASER: Because it’s dorsal fin was so big. The shape, a boat - the fin was so big they thought it looked like a sail.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear about KZ-7 harassing people?
CRAWFORD: But you heard about KZ-7 kind of holding in place around the peninsula?
CRAWFORD: Was that in multiple years, do you recall?
FRASER: Yes. They’d seen it several years - as best as I understand. Haven’t heard about it in quite a few years now. Maybe it’s gone or died or whatever. I don’t know.
CRAWFORD: Alright. Any other major recollections about observations of White Pointers from other people, after the shark nets were deployed and those sharks were removed?
FRASER: No. The only thing makes me think that there could be a shark up there. I had four nets along the beach of St. Clair and St. Kilda, and the north one at St. Kilda was north to the sewage outlets. And every year, like probably two or three times a year, the northern net - there was a huge hole in it.
CRAWFORD: Based on your experience what could cause a hole that size in these nets?
FRASER: Well the netting that we made the nets out of was too light to hold a giant shark.
CRAWFORD: Approximately what gauge on those nets? Roughly.
FRASER: 130, and they were 12-inch mesh, but the sharks were all up in them. I would imagine that one day if there was a White Pointer getting stuck, making its way to get caught, it would have to get tangled in the headline and leadline, because it was thicker rope. Quite thick. Otherwise it would just ...
CRAWFORD: Chew its way out?
CRAWFORD: Based on your experience with the nets that you set, you didn’t often see big holes in the nets - except the one that was close to the sewage outflow?
CRAWFORD: That’s very interesting.
FRASER: And that’s the end where Jordan got attacked. I think two people got attacked up there.
CRAWFORD: In terms or other things that could have potentially created those holes, what else do you think could have possibly accounted for them other than a White Pointer?
FRASER: Well, it could have been a Basking Shark.
CRAWFORD: Yeah. But a Basking Shark’s not going to chew its way out?
FRASER: No. But they have caught Basking Sharks in those nets - but then they rolled out
CRAWFORD: Did you catch any Basking Sharks in those DCC nets?
CRAWFORD: Have you seen Basking Sharks along this coast?
FRASER: Yeah. But not many.
CRAWFORD: Based on your experience, what are the kind of simple clear things that distinguish a Basking Shark from a White Pointer? Anything about the shape, or the fins, or the colour or anything else?
FRASER: Well, haven’t seen one sticking out of the water. But I’ve seen them go past the boat, maybe six feet under water. And they aren’t really interested in you. They just sort of go past.
CRAWFORD: You’ve never seen Basking Sharks at the surface? You’ve never see the dorsal fin out?
FRASER: No. I've just seen them go past me.
CRAWFORD: Have you ever seen them feeding with their mouths wide open?
CRAWFORD: And they’re just so fixed on what they’re doing, they don’t really pay attention to anything else.
CRAWFORD: And what about their shape? Any differences between White Pointers and Basking Sharks in terms of shape or colouration?
FRASER: Yeah, yeah. You can tell. They’re bigger, their front end, the head - it’s so wide.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let's go back to the early days of the DCC shark netting. At some point, you would have heard that DCC was going to do this. That Johnny Malcolm was going to fish shark nets for them. Do you remember the reasons why DCC said they were going to put these nets in the water? Did they ever say what the reason was?
FRASER: No. I just understood that they wanted the shark caught that bothered the people.
CRAWFORD: So it was actually a cull, they wanted to catch the attacking animal, back in the day? They wanted the individual sharks that were responsible for the attacks?
FRASER: That was my understanding.
CRAWFORD: Do you remember the time lag between the nets being put up, and a White Pointer being caught?
FRASER: Not really. It was a long time ago. But when I had the contract it was put down - 'shark net protection.'
CRAWFORD: To prevent the White Pointers from getting into proximity of the beach?
CRAWFORD: Where were your nets?
FRASER: The nets were from just out front of St Clair, two at that end and two at St. Kilda, but know they’re only 100 metres long. So, they’re only covering 400 metres - half that shore.
CRAWFORD: The net furthest out towards the Otago Peninsula, where was it fished?
FRASER: They were only in seven fathoms, fourteen metres deep.
Because if we put them any closer to shore, they’d end up getting washed up on the beach.
FRASER: But we caught a lot of fish. It was always the same game, the people used to say that "Oh you’re catching all the sharks on the inside of the net because they’ve already been into the beach and they’re heading out back to sea." I said "How do you know that?" They said "Oh well, that's what we've been told." I said "Well, no. When you’re unrolling the nets, they’re caught on both sides."
CRAWFORD: Several people have talked about the shark nets not being effective because the sharks were getting caught on the way out.
CRAWFORD: But you’re telling me, as somebody who actually fished those nets - that’s not the case. That based on what you saw, sharks were coming in and going out.
FRASER: Both sides.
CRAWFORD: Where the hell do you think that idea came from - that the sharks were only caught going out?
FRASER: I don’t know but that's what they always used to say. And also, if you caught one shark ... like this is in the first two or three years especially, if we got a Thresher, because they’re very soft, you’d get four or five Sevengillers each side of it. And the Thresher would have big chunks out of it, like that wide. Like a steering wheel a big steering wheel, where the Sevengillers had just munched.
CRAWFORD: And then the Sevengillers got tangled up?
FRASER: But also, they’d eat each other.
CRAWFORD: The Sevengillers would eat each other?
FRASER: Yeah. And they've got a very hard skin on them. They’d also attack one, probably the first one that got tangled up in the net, and you'd see there might be three or four-foot hole, you know? Very big. And my job was to dissect the sharks and document what they’d been eating.
FRASER: And also count the pups, and measure the pups and all that.
When you count those sharks, the sharks that you got alongside the shark that got munched, you’d find the pieces of that shark in the other sharks’ stomach.
CRAWFORD: You don’t get much stronger evidence that you’ve got Sevengillers coming in, taking bites out of them, and then in turn some of them get entangled.
CRAWFORD: In total, how long did you run those DCC nets?
FRASER: Twelve years.
CRAWFORD: In any of those twelve years, did you catch any White Pointers?
CRAWFORD: But you did see huge holes sometimes. But only on the nets that were out closest to the sewage outpost? Not ever, or rarely, on the other nets?
FRASER: That’s right.
CRAWFORD: When you did catch sharks, what species did you catch? Makos?
FRASER: Never caught many Makos at that time,
FRASER: Probably average one a year. The first 4-5 years we got, all written down there somewhere, several Threshers. Never got any in the last half a dozen years.
CRAWFORD: All the way through your contract?
FRASER: No. We must have cleaned them out a bit, because in the later years, most of the nets would be empty. Most of the Sevengillers were at Brighton. Some days we’d get 12-15 of them. Big ones. You know, 10-footers, 12-footers.
CRAWFORD: And you got Blues too?
FRASER: Not many Blues.
CRAWFORD: Mesh too big for them?
FRASER: Probably until they got up to ... I have seen a lot of Blues in schools, swimming around.
FRASER: Couple of those we caught. Rarely. Never caught a Dolphin. Or a Seal.
CRAWFORD: Let’s talk about the sewage outflow. Do you figure that White Pointers would be attracted to a sewage outflow?
FRASER: Oh, not sure. Way back in days of the attacks, it was really raw sewage going into the sea. Until the new facility.
CRAWFORD: The sewage treatment facility?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear people talking about White Pointers swimming in the sewage outflow?
CRAWFORD: Were there any other types of organic waste being pumped into the water in this region? Anything that you recall?
CRAWFORD: Some people talk about some type of freezer works around Green Island.
FRASER: Ah, right. Yeah. It would have went out around ... it probably went out around Waldronville. I can remember us trawling up and down the beach - from Brighton up towards the sewage pipe. Years ago, before the treatment was changed, and you could see the little pieces floating past the boat.
CRAWFORD: At Waldronville - was that a freezer works, or was that a sewage facility, do you figure?
FRASER: Sewage. But the freezer works probably went into there as well.
CRAWFORD: Alright. Did you ever hear about sharks clustering around there?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear anything about fish processing offal getting dumped off of Taiaroa Head?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever see that dumping?
FRASER: Yeah. They used to they’d take it from Otakou Fisheries, when they had the factory near it, down at Otakou. They’d truck it up, and they’d just tip it over the edge.
CRAWFORD: When was that do you reckon?
FRASER: In the 50’s, finished in the 60’s. They moved the factory to Dunedin.
CRAWFORD: Ok. What did the Dunedin factory do with their offal?
FRASER: I don't know what they did with it.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever remember hearing about White Pointers, or any other type of sharks, being attracted to that that offal dump off Taiaroa Head?
CRAWFORD: Given that White Pointers are around this region generally, based on your lifetime of experience, why do you figure they would be around here?
FRASER: Well, probably just part of their living. They’ve got to eat to survive, so I suppose they’re looking for food.
CRAWFORD: What kind of food do you think they’d be finding that would attract them to this place?
FRASER: Well, see this used to be a giant Kelp beach all the way up here. From Taieri island all the way up to St Clair. Right out to about 12 fathom. Was just Kelp, you couldn't drive through it. And that used to be the nursery for the fish.
FRASER: When my Father had the experience with that big shark that latched onto his rudder, it was all Kelp up there. And they just used to go up there and tie onto a bit of Kelp and start fishing. Now there’s none. It's gone.
FRASER: Because of all the filth coming out of the rivers, I reckon.
CRAWFORD: You figure that the agriculture and municipal waste coming down the rivers has a major effect on the Kelp?
FRASER: Well that’s the sort of thought of most of us nowadays. Because there used to be huge Kelp beds down from the Clutha River. Right up to Cook Rock. Not a bit of Kelp there now. And all the prevailing tide runs up the coast and the rivers, the river mouth here and all rock bottom and Kelp here and the same here - all gone. And they stick a pump in the Waipori River, to put on the land to grow grass for the cattle.
CRAWFORD: When do you recall seeing that decline of kelp? Roughly when?
FRASER: Middle of the '70s
CRAWFORD: And then it declined to the point where the Kelp was gone?
CRAWFORD: When did it reach that point - mid-70’s to mid-80’s?
CRAWFORD: Took about a decade?
FRASER: Yeah. Gone.
CRAWFORD: And you reckon those Kelp beds would have been major nursery grounds for fish?
FRASER: Oh, yeah. We used to get a bunch of different fish out there. Greenbone, Moki, Trumpeter. All that sort of stuff.
CRAWFORD: And those fish disappeared with the Kelp?
FRASER: They were still there, but not like it used to be.
CRAWFORD: Reduced by what down to what - maybe 20 percent something like that?
FRASER: Yeah, probably.
CRAWFORD: So, a big reduction. Alright, were there Kelp beds here, north of the Otago Peninsula?
FRASER: Yep, in close along here, then Karitane - from the north head we had big Kelp beds up here to Shag Point.
CRAWFORD: And are they still intact?
FRASER: A lot of it’s gone now.
CRAWFORD: Down to what - maybe 50%?
FRASER: I would say a bit more than that. But you see we've got prevailing tide runs up the coast and then there's a big eddy, turns up Oamaru way, and comes back down and out this way. So, these Kelp beds are getting cleaner water from out here. Probably 75% of the time, when we’re doing Crayfish pots, there's a northerly tide coming down the coast. Down here it’s the other way around. It’s coming up the coast. When you've got a lot of fresh on the Clutha River, you can see it in the water. It’s a different colour, with the freshwater on top. It’s a milky colour. And a lot of sediments, cropping on the bottom. Down here where there used to be rocks, real big rocks - it’s all mud. Muddy stuff on the bottom now.
CRAWFORD: Those are big changes over a relatively short period of time. A decade or two is not that long, when you consider the ecosystem. It’s just a snapshot in time.
FRASER: But they started pouring on weedkillers and fertilizers and changing a lot of this land up here into dairy farms. They've got to drink a lot of water, those cows. And then it all comes out the other end, and then when you get a big rain ...
CRAWFORD: It all flushes out.
FRASER: So, that’s my theory.
FRASER: And also down here, we used to go handline fishing off Wangaloa, and we used to get a lot of trouble with big sharks there.
CRAWFORD: Big sharks taking fish?
FRASER: Well, they’d get a hold of your line. And then your line would just go like that. So, you’d be hanging on to it, you couldn’t hold it. You’d put it around the cleat, turn and slow it down - then it would straighten the hook out or break the line. That's how we had to deal with big sharks.
CRAWFORD: When was that, roughly?
FRASER: In the 60’s
CRAWFORD: Even though you might not have seen them, more of these big fish, they were very likely big sharks. But they didn’t interact with your boat directly?
CRAWFORD: They just interacted with the fish on your lines?
FRASER: There could be big sharks still there now, but the thing is, we don’t do that sort of fishing anymore. But there's all these small boats going out - you know, the runabouts. But their gear’s so light ...
CRAWFORD: That it's going to snap it in a second?
FRASER: They get a big Groper, and it busts.
CRAWFORD: Yeah. Ok. Let’s go back to the beginning of the DCC program, it was Johnny Malcom who was the first guy that had the DCC contract?
CRAWFORD: Roughly for how many years? Do you remember?
FRASER: Oh. At least six years, anyway.
CRAWFORD: I will make a serious effort to go up to Palmerston and find him.
FRASER: I’ve got his number.
CRAWFORD: Yeah, I’d appreciate that. But do you recall hearing that as soon as the nets did go out, they caught White Pointers?
FRASER: Yes, when they started.
CRAWFORD: And then not so much?
FRASER: No. No.
CRAWFORD: To the best of your memory, Johnny was first, who came after him?
FRASER: I think it was Keith Simmond.
CRAWFORD: And who would have come after Keith?
FRASER: Wayne Jollie, he’s the Redback.
CRAWFORD: And who came after Wayne?
CRAWFORD: And you were the last one - so a total of four fishermen who worked the DCC shark net contract?
FRASER: Yeah. When they started the programs, they didn’t document it like when I was doing it. We had to measure the sharks, sex and name you know - what species, count any pups, and record what they’d been feeding on.
CRAWFORD: Yes. But not in the early days - they didn’t have a recording system like that?
FRASER: I’m pretty sure they didn’t.
CRAWFORD: And just to be clear, was it in the DCC contract that they defined the location that nets were going to be fished?
FRASER: Yes. We couldn’t put them ... well they had to be where the beaches were. There were two nets here ...
CRAWFORD: One on either side?
FRASER: Yeah, just off the headland there.
CRAWFORD: Did you say those were 300-metre long nets?
FRASER: 120 metres each.
CRAWFORD: 120, Ok. So, two there.
FRASER: And they were 20 metres deep, 12-inch mesh, so go about 20 feet. And then there were two in front of St. Clair. I just put a wee bit of a gap. And then I put the other two up at St. Kilda there. So, there were six nets all together.
CRAWFORD: Right. And it was the St. Kilda nets that were closest to the sewage outflow?
CRAWFORD: What was the distance between the sewage outflow and where you fished the St. Kilda nets, roughly?
FRASER: Oh, only a couple of hundred metres.
CRAWFORD: With the prevailing south to north current?
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: Did you ever encounter any White Pointers in the wild?
FRASER: I did have a White Pointer in a setnet when I had my first boat the Marina.
CRAWFORD: Where was that?
FRASER: Just out there [Taieri Mouth]. Probably about 1970, '71.
CRAWFORD: What depth of water, roughly?
FRASER: Oh, about, 12 fathom.
CRAWFORD: Do you recall time of year?
FRASER: Was in the summer.
CRAWFORD: Was it wrapped up in your setnet? Was it dead when you brought it up?
FRASER: No, no. It was the first time I ever put setnets out there to catch Rig. I was fishing by myself, and I went out to set it at night and then went out early in the morning. I had a float on each end, and it was only the rig net, 7-inch mesh, not very high either. I started pulling it in, and the net was broken in half, so I went to the other end and when I was pulling it, up was coming this big shape. It was a shark. So, I got it up alongside the boat, and I cleaned it up - the net, the headline and the leadline. The headline and headline were made of 3/4 inch dyneema rope. And I think the breaking strain was about 2/3 of a tonne, or something like that.
CRAWFORD: Yeah, several hundred pounds.
FRASER: I was looking over the side, and it was a White Pointer - because its mouth opened, and I could see the teeth, definitely a White Pointer. It was probably, I estimated it to be about 12-foot long. So, I went to the other side of the boat to get a big strap to try to put on its tail, then the boat gave a hell of a jerk, and I ran over here and it had busted those two lines - and it was swimming away.
CRAWFORD: It was free and clear of the net? Or was it still tangled up partly?
FRASER: No, no - busted out. I don’t think there was any net left on it. But it got out of that net.
CRAWFORD: Was that an active mouth that was cutting through the net?
FRASER: Yeah. It was being very ... it was pissed off.
CRAWFORD: How do you know it was pissed off?
FRASER: It was shaking its head from side to side. Not fast, just slowly. So, I thought "Well, I'll go and get a big strap and I’ll try and get his tail with the boat hook and get it by the tail." That's when it must have gone a bit crazy, because the boat had started jerking. And when I went over there, I saw the shape swimming to the bottom.
CRAWFORD: Once it was free, it didn’t come back to the boat, didn’t circle or anything like that?
FRASER: No. Gone. The cockpit of that boat was 12 foot long, and it was as long as that anyway. It was a big animal.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Were there any other times that you saw White Pointers out here?
FRASER: No. Couldn’t identify it as a White Pointer. I’d see sharks from the dock, you know - when you're driving along.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever mark big targets on sonar when you’re out there? Even if you wouldn't know what it was?
5. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let's get back to your early days. Did your Dad, or any of the old-timers, ever tell you about White Pointers in this region?
FRASER: Well me Uncle, he had a Groper patch just outside the island way back in the day - that would have been early 50’s, because it was all really virgin ground. It hadn't been fished before. And they were only ten minutes away from the entrance, and it was a nice calm day. And the crew was up on the forward deck, looking over the side and here’s all these Gropers swimming past the boat. Big ones. So they anchored the boat up, chucked a bit of burley over, and they filled the boat up in no time. But then he started having trouble with a shark, and they reckoned it was a Great White. So, he took the 303 out, because it was chomping up the fish, and frightening them away, and being a nuisance. They got the shark in the fin.
CRAWFORD: They got it and pulled it in? Or did they kill it ...
FRASER: Just left it out there.
CRAWFORD: If it was close enough to kill, then it was close enough to see well?
FRASER: Oh, yeah. It was coming alongside the boat, almost coming out of the water.
CRAWFORD: And your uncle knows a White Pointer from the other kinds of animals out there?
CRAWFORD: No intention to keep the animal for its teeth or its liver or anything like that?
FRASER: In those days, you didn’t bother. They just wanted the shark gone.
CRAWFORD: The primary intention was to get the shark to stop harassing their Groper fishery?
FRASER: Yeah. And also, I can remember when I was a kid, me Father had a boat, and he was fishing up north off Taieri and there was a White Pointer. And it swam around the boat several times when they were fishing. And then it went around the side, and grabbed hold of the rudder.
CRAWFORD: That’s very interesting.
FRASER: And I can remember when I was kid ... you can see the teeth marks in the rudder, on the boat and the rudder.
CRAWFORD: This would have been in the 1950’s maybe?
FRASER: Yeah, yeah.
CRAWFORD: [Discussion about project classification levels for human encounters with White Pointers: Level 1-Observation, Level 2-Swim-By, Level 3-Interest, Level 4-Intense] When your Dad told you the story about a White Pointer, were they burleying at the time? This would have been a Level 3?
CRAWFORD: So, there was something that had attracted it.
FRASER: It was chomping at the Groper, when it was being pulled up.
FRASER: So, they were watching, and it came up to the top, and swam around the boat.
CRAWFORD: The animal did something above Level 3 then - it chomped on the rudder?
FRASER: On the rudder, yeah.
CRAWFORD: What did your Dad figure was up with that? What’s with the biting on the rudder?
FRASER: Curiosity, I suppose. He probably never saw a boat before. You wouldn't know, would you? Unless you were the shark itself.
CRAWFORD: Right. You don’t know where that shark came from, and if it had ever seen anything like this before.
CRAWFORD: Did your Dad get the feeling that this was kind of aggressive biting, or was it ...
FRASER: I don’t know what he said. Like, that’s what I’m talking about. I don’t know whether it was going, what intention, trying to eat the boat or just teething the thing.
Copyright © 2017 Graeme Fraser and Steve Crawford