Iain Govan


YOB: 1959
Experience: Spearfisherman
Regions: Otago
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 02 December 2015
Post Date: 08 July 2017; Copyright © 2017 Iain Govan and Steve Crawford


CRAWFORD: If I recall correctly, you said you were born in Dunedin?

GOVAN: Yes, in 1959.

CRAWFORD: At what age do you remember spending a significant amount of time around the water?

GOVAN: Probably from 3-4 years old.

CRAWFORD: Very early on; under parental supervision.


CRAWFORD: Around what places, what regions?

GOVAN: Around Taieri Mouth, the coastline, and around Taieri Island itself.

CRAWFORD:  Did your family have a holiday home there?

GOVAN: We had a crib at Taieri Mouth, and used to go down there quite a bit. We spent time there before I went to school, and when I was in school also.

CRAWFORD: When you were still under close supervision, what kind of activities were you involved in?

GOVAN: Mostly swimming, fishing, and playing around rock pools - and collecting mussels. 

CRAWFORD: What kind of fishing? Rod and reel fishing?

GOVAN: Hand-line back then, I didn’t possess a fishing rod.

CRAWFORD: Did you and your family have access to a dinghy that you would go out in?

GOVAN: No, just form the shore.

CRAWFORD: Ok. How much of your activity was in the river, the estuary, versus along the coastal zone itself?

GOVAN: Probably half and half. We used to fish in the river as well, off the rocks.

CRAWFORD: On a seasonal basis, was it more likely for you to be there during the summertime, as opposed to the winter?


CRAWFORD: As a kid, roughly how long during the summer would you spend there?

GOVAN: Oh, I suppose collectively three or four weeks over the summer. Something like that. Hard to say.

CRAWFORD: Was there anyplace else along coastal New Zealand, either around the Otago Harbour, Otago Peninsula, anyplace else where you spent significant time as a kid?

GOVAN: I have memories of the Long Beach area. Just going out for day trips around the beach.

CRAWFORD: There comes a time when you no longer require adult supervision.  What age do you figure that was for you, roughly? When were you allowed to go off on your own a little bit?

GOVAN: About 11.

CRAWFORD: And when you reached that age, was it still the same pattern - that you spent most of your time at Taieri Mouth?

GOVAN: No, at that stage I’d spend most of my holiday time at central Otago. So, inland, not coastal waters.

CRAWFORD: That kind of represents a block of time away from marine environments?

GOVAN: That’s right, yes.

CRAWFORD: What age did you resume spending time around New Zealand coastal waters?

GOVAN: At age 21.

CRAWFORD: Was that based in the Dunedin area, or did you relocate?

GOVAN: Dunedin area.

CRAWFORD: What kind of activities?

GOVAN: Scuba-diving and spearfishing.

CRAWFORD: You got certified as a scuba diver?


CRAWFORD: And when you got certified, where would you go? What kind of regions would you be diving in?

GOVAN: Around the Otago Peninsula and coastline. Various places including Cape Saunders, Seal Point, Taiaroa Head.

CRAWFORD: Anything around Blueskin Bay?

GOVAN: Not so much Blueskin Bay, but up around Danger Reef, Karitane, Green Island. Maybe occasionally off Taieri Island. Some down here along the Catlins coast as well.

CRAWFORD: Would you dive down here around The Nuggets as well?


CRAWFORD: What kind of spots in the Catlins would you dive?

GOVAN: Around Papatowai, Tautuku Peninsula, Long Point, Jack's Bay.

CRAWFORD: This was recreational diving?

GOVAN: Yes. When we were scuba-diving our sole goal was Crayfish. We didn’t get in the water just to look around. 

CRAWFORD: What kind of seasonality for this?

GOVAN: Principally summer, but at times we’d go out in the winter as well.

CRAWFORD: During the summer, how frequently might you go out diving? Once a month?

GOVAN: More frequently than that. We’d go out weekly if we could.

CRAWFORD: But on average?

GOVAN: On average, perhaps once a week.

CRAWFORD: During the winter, something like once a month?

GOVAN: Something like that, yes. Certainly much lower frequency. But through spring through to autumn, we were out reasonably regularly. 

CRAWFORD: These were day trips? Length of time in the water would be on the order of hours?

GOVAN: Yes. We might have gone out and done a couple of dives, so depending on depth obviously. But yes, two hours maximum would be the case generally.

CRAWFORD: Roughly how many years did you dive for Crayfish?

GOVAN: Probably about ten years. That would have been that period of regular activity.

CRAWFORD: Until you were about thirty?


CRAWFORD: Did you do any substantial amount of boating, sailing, line fishing or rod and reel fishing?

GOVAN: Very little of any of those. It was all centered around either scuba-diving or spearfishing.

CRAWFORD: When did you start to spearfish in a big way?

GOVAN: Virtually as soon as I learned scuba-diving.

CRAWFORD: Early 20s?

GOVAN: Yes. The guy who was my instructor was a very keen spearfisherman. In fact, I’ve put you on to him as another person to contact - Paul Cobby and his diving and spearfishing friends John Amsden who now lives in Byron Bay, and Chris Dodds who is the other name I gave you. They were very keen spearfishermen. I started going out with them right from the get-go.

CRAWFORD: Relative to the frequency of scuba-diving, what was the frequency of spearfishing? About the same?

GOVAN: Yes, the same. We would always look to combine the two of these. We wouldn't be just going scuba-diving; we’d look to do a tank dive, and then spearfish as well.

CRAWFORD: I see, that’s helpful. The frequency over seasons?

GOVAN: Pretty similar. Really the only thing is that we probably wouldn't have spearfished as much in the colder months, because of poor visibility.

CRAWFORD: Fair enough. In that regard, were there some places you would scuba-dive but not spearfish, or vice-versa?

GOVAN: Seal Point. We'd spearfish a lot more than scuba-dive.

CRAWFORD: Why’s that?

GOVAN: Just in our experience we caught a lot more fish there than Crays. And you’d have to walk down from the road, which was quite a ways, and you wouldn’t want to be carrying scuba gear down there.

CRAWFORD: Any other places that were predominantly one type of diving, rather than the other?

GOVAN: A lot of the spots around the [Otago] Peninsula, perhaps around Cape Saunders, would have been principally scuba-diving

CRAWFORD: With boat access?

GOVAN: Yes. At Cape Saunders we’d at times ... not sure if you can get there anymore, but we used to walk down there and spearfish or scuba-dive. Places further north such as Karitane or Shag Point, that was principally spearfishing.

CRAWFORD: That brings up an important question. Roughly what percentage of your dives, whether it was scuba- or free-diving were shore-based as opposed to boat-based? Did you have a boat?

GOVAN: No, I didn’t myself. The majority would have been shore-based diving.

CRAWFORD: Maybe 60 or 70 percent? Something like that?

GOVAN: Yes, possibly 70 percent.

CRAWFORD: That takes us from your 20's to your 30's. Were you still doing both free-dive spearfishing and scuba-diving through that period?


CRAWFORD: When did things change after that?

GOVAN: I went to Scotland in 1987. Back here in 1988, then over there again for 1989/90. Came back at the end of 1990. Just about all the diving I’ve done since then has been spearfishing only.

CRAWFORD: Roughly four years that you were pretty much offline?

GOVAN: Largely.

CRAWFORD: Were you diving in Scotland?

GOVAN: Yes. We dived for a living for Scallops and Crayfish, plus did in-shore construction work just as it came up, and a bit of salvage work and so on.

CRAWFORD: Did you get your commercial dive certificate?

GOVAN: No. I don’t have an instruction qualification at all.

CRAWFORD: When you came back, you didn't care to scuba-dive anymore?

GOVAN: I still went out and did the occasional scuba dive, but wasn’t much interested in it anymore - having done it for a job in Scotland. I think it might have been after two or three years, I got rid of my tanks because I couldn't be bothered with it. But the spearfishing carried on, as I never wanted to relinquish that, as long as I was physically able to.

CRAWFORD: Just before we get into your post-Scotland spearfishing phase ...  You had also mentioned that you had spent a fair amount of time down around Stewart Island. Had that already happened prior to Scotland? Or was that still to come?

GOVAN: We went down to Stewart Island quite a bit during the early years.

CRAWFORD: So, prior to Scotland?


CRAWFORD: Tell me about your spearfishing experiences down at Stewart Island, during those early years.

GOVAN: Most of the time I was down there, it was just charter trips. You know, like a bunch of us would charter a boat.

CRAWFORD: A bunch of spearfishermen?

GOVAN:  Tank divers and spearfishermen both. And just do like a week trip or something. Tripping around the coast area.

CRAWFORD: Would you start around Bluff?


CRAWFORD: If you chartered out of Bluff, what regions might you have been diving?

GOVAN: To be honest I can’t remember how far south we went. I really don’t recall the place names.
CRAWFORD: That’s fine. What kinds of things do you remember?

GOVAN: Quite a bit around Paterson Inlet, and north and south from there. I remember fishing around that area.

CRAWFORD: Do you recall if you ever did any diving out in the northern Titi Islands? Around Bench Island?

GOVAN: I can’t remember diving there.

CRAWFORD: Foveaux Strait region, due west along the southern end of the South Island. Did you ever do any substantial diving over there?

GOVAN: Back in about the early 80’s, I spent a few days spearfishing and diving there. 

CRAWFORD: And you might go here for a day, and then someplace else?

GOVAN: Absolutely. We were just living on the boat, and we’d anchor up here and there.

CRAWFORD: Was this an annual kind of thing? Or maybe every other year?

GOVAN: We would have done that at least once a year, for a few years. Yeah, we went down there reasonably regularly, from memory.

CRAWFORD: Ok. And that’s all in the pre-Scotland period?


CRAWFORD: Did you ever go diving around Stewart Island and the associated islands in the post-Scotland period?


CRAWFORD: Let’s bring this chart back because I suspect from what you've said that most of your post-Scotland is going to be along the eastern Otago coastline? 

GOVAN: Yes, absolutely.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Post-Scotland, you come back, do a little scuba-diving. But mostly your passion is free-dive spearfishing?

GOVAN: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: Same general regions, or did you shift regions?

GOVAN: Just the same, principally. Karitane was a favourite spot. And Shag Point. I haven’t been up there for a while, but that was a favourite spot as well. Also, Seal Point, and around the entrance to the [Otago] Harbour. 

CRAWFORD: Still spearfishing around Green Island as well?

GOVAN: Oh yes, Green island. Went out to Green Island a lot.

CRAWFORD: Popular spot?

GOVAN: Possibly the place we went out to ... probably more than anywhere. I think that and Karitane and Seal Point.

CRAWFORD: Taieri Mouth still? Or not so much?

GOVAN: No. It’s a long time since I’ve been down there. In recent years, I’ve fished a bit round Papatowai, Tautuku [Peninsula] and so on.

CRAWFORD: But Green Island and Otago Peninsula would account for maybe 80 percent of your spearfishing?

GOVAN: Yes, those places and Karitane. Certainly.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Is that pretty much the pattern from 1990 to the present? Has it been a fairly consistent pattern over the 25 years?

GOVAN: In recent years, I had a period where I wasn’t going out much for other reasons. I couldn’t. That would have been about 2001 through to 2008.

CRAWFORD: That was another block where you were pretty much out of the water again?

GOVAN: Yes. I wasn’t in the water very often at all, over that time.

CRAWFORD: When did you resume? Around 2008-2009?

GOVAN: Yes, about that. I kind of mix it up with hunting and trout fishing and so on. At the moment, I haven’t been out. Haven’t been in the water at all this year. About half a dozen times, It would cap out at that probably.

CRAWFORD: Does that bring us up to the present?


Copyright © 2017 Iain Govan and Steve Crawford