Experience: Spearfisherman, Scuba Diver
Regions: Fiordland, Stewart Osland
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 05 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Perry Barr and Steve Crawford
1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS
CRAWFORD: Thank you Perry. Let's start with where you were born, and the year, please.
BARR: I was born in Wellington, in 1963.
CRAWFORD: What was the first age that you recall spending a lot of time around the New Zealand marine coastline?
BARR: Pretty much from my youngest years, when I was at the beach.
CRAWFORD: Did your family live close to the shore?
BARR: We went to beach on holidays, up and around north and that.
CRAWFORD: Was that a regular thing? Your family going up north to the beach?
BARR: Yeah. We had been up there a few times. And many times, there was a shark seen on the beach.
CRAWFORD: You would have been up for a week or two weeks at a time - that kind of thing?
BARR: Yeah, about a week.
CRAWFORD: When you said there was a shark seen, was this the type of thing when there were Surf Life Savers, and they would raise an alarm or something?
BARR: No, just a little private kind of beach.
CRAWFORD: So, very small scale?
BARR: Yeah, small.
CRAWFORD: Those types of visits to the beach up north from Wellington, those would have been from early days until what age, roughly?
BARR: From probably 3 or 4 till about 8 or 9, I think.
CRAWFORD: The family started spending time elsewhere during the holidays?
CRAWFORD: Also near the shoreline, or inland, or what?
BARR: No. We’re from the beach in Wellington, so our house is just above the shoreline. I was always down in the water.
CRAWFORD: At what age were you able to go down to the shoreline without adult supervision?
BARR: Pretty young. About 12, I think. And we just used to have a couple of jerseys on, and a homemade sling, and just splash around in the weeds and shoot the odd fish.
CRAWFORD: You were spearfishing as early as 12 or 13?
BARR: About 12, yeah. Just Flounder. It was exciting. Once my mate saw a shark, he thought it was a fish coming behind the weeds, and it was a shark. He was yelling "Shark, shark, shark!" and I dived down and looked around. I couldn’t see a shark, so we all went back to the shore. I never saw it, but he saw it and he was about to shoot it with his hand sling. [laughs] And he thought it just got bigger and bigger and bigger, and he thought, "Oh, don’t like that, I’m out of here." We were pretty young, and we were pretty scared.
CRAWFORD: When you were spearfishing as a kid, was it always from shore? Or did you use a dinghy, have access to a boat?
BARR: We just jumped in the water, because it was just 50-100 metres out.
CRAWFORD: In terms of seasonality, were there periods of time when you and your mates as went out spearfishing?
BARR: Just mainly summer, when it's warmer. Winter was too cold, and we didn’t have wetsuits.
CRAWFORD: And during the summers as a kid, how frequently would you go out spearfishing?
BARR: Maybe five times over the season. Then when I got to about 16, my Dad bought me a wetsuit and scuba gear, and I really got into it. I started to Crayfish dive on the south coast of Wellington, and spearfishing at the same time, and did a lot more time in the water because my mate had a little dinghy with a 10 horsepower. We’d head off out of Wellington, down to the south coast past Steeple Rock, and out towards Barret's Reef and get crayfish and spearfish for Butterfish.
CRAWFORD: So, that was a significant increase in amount of time on and in the water?
BARR: Yeah, lots.
CRAWFORD: What age did you get your scuba suit and start diving?
CRAWFORD: And pretty much all of your trips would have been day-trips from home?
CRAWFORD: When you were scuba diving, roughly how many times per year would you be going out?
BARR: In the summer pretty much, at least once a week or once every two weeks. In the winter not as much, just because it was cold and bad weather, and stuff.
CRAWFORD: When did you start travelling further afield?
BARR: When I came here [Milford Sound]. I left Wellington when I was 24, came straight here to this air traffic control tower, and worked here ever since. Then, I started scuba diving out of the Sound. I used to get rides off Crayfishermen in boats out of Milford, then up the coast, up to Yates Point.
CRAWFORD: Did you start spearfishing as soon as you got here to Milford Sound?
BARR: Straight away, yeah.
CRAWFORD: Did you talk to the guys in the fishing fleet, the Crayfishermen, the guys who shuttled you out with mates?
BARR: No, just myself, they’d drop me off. This was 20 years ago. I’d jump in the water, and I’d say, "I’ll be 25 minutes, because that’s how long my tank would last." Then I’d surface, and they’d be nowhere to be seen! It was really unreliable because they were doing their thing, they were in the rocks getting their Crayfish pots. And I was bobbing around, waiting for them, in the open ocean. It was a bit scary. I cut it after the first five dives, because I thought I was not going to survive.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, you had that exploratory kind of spearfishing phase, and you figured that wasn’t going to work out. After that did you get alternate access to a vessel that you could take out on your own?
BARR: Yes, I did actually. I bought myself a little Lance, a 10-foot boat with a 25 horsepower motor. I used to fang out to the mouth, and go diving out there.
CRAWFORD: That meant then you had your own dependable source of transport. Did it increase the amount of time that you spent spearfishing?
BARR: No, because I had a couple of bad experiences out there that kind of put me off for a few years. I bumped into a shark once, and then I ran out of air at 75 feet, and then people out there were looking after me, so I thought "Nah, I’m just going to free dive here, from now on."
CRAWFORD: When you made the transition to free-dive spearfishing, were you still concentrating on the Milford Sound region?
BARR: No. I mostly spearfished at Stewart Island.
CRAWFORD: Really? When was the first time that you started spending a significant amount of spearfishing effort at Stewart Island?
BARR: I’ve probably been going there for over 15 years, starting approximately 1993. When I was going spear fishing, it was a mix of fishing, spearfishing, and Pāua diving. I would go with a mate from up north, my hunting mate, and we go down pretty much every August, because it’s a nice weather pattern down there. Go down there and spend a week fishing with the same little boat, the inflatable, fang around, spearfish, lots of Blue Cod fishing. All in the same places that I still go now.
CRAWFORD: That’s interesting, because you have a time series at Stewart Island that predates both the Department of Conservation [DOC] shark tagging work, and the shark cage diving. Were you based out of Halfmoon Bay?
BARR: Yes, actually we were. We rented it for a week, the beach house it was called, and our boat was parked on the beach. And we just dragged it into the water, and there we were.
CRAWFORD: Roughly what was the split in effort between linefishing, spearfishing and Pāua diving?
BARR: Pretty much all the same. We were out in all weathers. It's always showering down there, so you just take a jacket and the boat, and off you go.
CRAWFORD: But on the Island, there’s always someplace you can be - that’s protected in that sense.
BARR: We do that quite a lot for the linefishing. And then we get a couple of dives spearfishing, just south of Ackers Point in a big patch of weed which has really big Butterfish. Then the next one up to the north in toward Horseshoe Bay, and that was sort of where we went.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Has there been any other marine experience that you've had on or in the water, other than what you've described already?
BARR: That's pretty much it.
Copyright © 2017 Perry Barr and Steve Crawford