Turgut Ortabas


YOB: 1981
Experience: Commercial Fisherman, Cruise Skipper
Regions: Otago, Fiordland
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 09 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Turgut Ortabas and Steve Crawford


CRAWFORD: What year were you born, Turgut? 

ORTABAS: 1981.

CRAWFORD: I’m guessing that perhaps you spent significant time around the sea in Turkey?

ORTABAS: Yeah. My Grandfather and my Father were commercial fishermen in the Aegean Sea.

CRAWFORD: What kind of fishery did they have?

ORTABAS: Our main catch was based on Sardine, Anchovy, and Mackerel.

CRAWFORD: Were they setnetters?

ORTABAS: Purse-seiners.

CRAWFORD: What kind of boat were they sailing?

ORTABAS: Our biggest boat was 28 meters

CRAWFORD: They had several boats?

ORTABAS: Yeah. They started with a small boat. They started with a 5-metre dinghy, and they used to row for about 7-8 hours to get to the fishing grounds. 

CRAWFORD: They rowed? The whole way out?

ORTABAS: Yeah. That was before they even had motors on their boats.

CRAWFORD: Roughly, when was that?

ORTABAS: I was born in 1981, so ....

CRAWFORD: Were they still rowing in the 1980s?

ORTABAS: Nah. We had motors when I was born. Our last boat was built when I was ten years old.

CRAWFORD: Purse-seiners exclusively?

ORTABAS: Seines and setnets, gillnets as well.

CRAWFORD: So, this was very much a commercial fishing family then?


CRAWFORD: Was it the case that you were on dinghies and around boats from your first recollection? Going out with your Dad and family?

ORTABAS: Yeah. I left school when I was 14, and went fishing full-time. I had my 15th birthday on the boat.

CRAWFORD: 15 years old, you were fishing full-time with your family operation. When did you leave Turkey? Roughly what age?

ORTABAS: I had to get Army service for two years ... compulsory Turkish Army for two years, before I came to New Zealand.

CRAWFORD: What age was that when you went in the Army?


CRAWFORD: Roughly four years full-time fishing, then two years compulsory military service?

ORTABAS: Yeah, yeah. And all our school holidays and summers we worked on the boat to repair, maintenance, netting.

CRAWFORD: Was there seasonality to the fishing? Was it mostly in the summer, or mostly winter?

ORTABAS: Mostly winter because purse-seining is not allowed operating for about four months. So you go from May, June, July, August, September - that's when you can't use purse-seines.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Two years in military service. Then did you go back to the fishery?

ORTABAS: Yes I did, part-time fishery.

CRAWFORD: How many years part-time, when you went back?

ORTABAS: Before I went to the Army, my parents sold their boats because the fishery just went downhill. At our harbour there used to be about 30 boats, and then my father sold, it was like 18 boats left. And now there are no boats in the harbour. They are all gone.

CRAWFORD: Was it overfishing? The stocks just disappeared?

ORTABAS: Yeah, big time. They just caught everything.

CRAWFORD: When did you leave for New Zealand? What age? 

ORTABAS: About 22.

CRAWFORD: When you came to New Zealand, where did you settle?

ORTABAS: Dunedin.

CRAWFORD: Did you spend any significant amount of time there?

ORTABAS: Yeah, I was working for Sealord's fishing company.

CRAWFORD: You were working at a fish processing plant?

ORTABAS: Yeah. I was fileting fish. 

CRAWFORD: How long did you have that job for?

ORTABAS: Well, the Hoki season lasted four or five months, and then I went away and came back again, and worked another three months.

CRAWFORD: Went away somewhere else in New Zealand, or went back to Turkey?

ORTABAS: No, no. I was just in Dunedin. Because they only employed during the Hoki season. It's their busy season, so seasonal work.

CRAWFORD: When you were there in Dunedin, would you ever sail out of Port Chalmers, work on any of the fishing boats there?

ORTABAS: Not on small boats. I did one trip on one of the big boats, a trawler.

CRAWFORD: Offshore fishing?

ORTABAS: Yeah. But I wasn't really doing much. Pretty much the bottom boy.

CRAWFORD: Was it a short haul? Like a couple of months?

ORTABAS: Not even. After that I came to Milford.

CRAWFORD: When was it that you came here?

ORTABAS: 2005.

CRAWFORD: When you got here, were you coming specifically for a job?

ORTABAS: I came here, and because it was winter, I just worked in the ship's stores. And then afterwards, I working on an overnight boat - a boat called the Mariner. I worked on that for two seasons.

CRAWFORD: How frequent were those overnight trips?

ORTABAS:  We did two trips a day, and then an overnight cruise.

CRAWFORD: Through the whole year, or just the summer?

ORTABAS: Nine months out of the year. Week on, week off.

CRAWFORD: When did the season start?

ORTABAS: Season would have started in September, and then went till May.

CRAWFORD: When you went on those day-trips, were they up to the Tasman Sea and back? Kind of the standard Milford cruise?

ORTABAS: Yeah. Up to the lighthouse and back, like most of the cruises here.

CRAWFORD: That went on for how many years?

ORTABAS: One and a half seasons, basically.

CRAWFORD: What changed then?

ORTABAS: I was crossing my Skipper’s ticket from Turkey, because I had a ticket back home. But they did not recognize it in New Zealand

CRAWFORD: You had to get re-certified, or did you have to go through training again?

ORTABAS: I tried to transfer it, and it just took so long. So, I just went a sat the ticket, I started again.

CRAWFORD: How long was that?

ORTABAS: Five weeks. It was pretty easy.

CRAWFORD: When did you get your Skipper's ticket here?

ORTABAS: 2007.

CRAWFORD: As soon as you got your ticket, did you come back and there was a Skipper's job for you?

ORTABAS: Yeah. I was driving a boat called the Friendship. We took 12 people out, we did two days-trip with her, and an overnight cruise.

CRAWFORD: How big a vessel was that?

ORTABAS: She was 15-16 meters. Small. She had a shape like a pregnant peanut. And that was one of the oldest boats here. She was sold, now she's not in this harbour any more.

CRAWFORD: And you took out a dozen people?

ORTABAS: Our limit was something like 16-17 people for the day cruise, but our overnight we only took twelve.

CRAWFORD: Was it more of a scenic cruise, or a nature cruise?

ORTABAS: Nature. We used to go up the Milford Track, take people for a walk. And we used to go out to the entrance and back. Depended on what people wanted, because it was a small group of people. Whatever they wanted. Sometimes we would go out the front there, if it was good weather.

CRAWFORD: How long did you Skipper the Friendship?

ORTABAS: One season.

CRAWFORD: Then what happened?

ORTABAS: The next season, the company didn't want to run the boat, didn't want to do overnights. They didn't know what they were doing with the boat - they were going to sell it, then they kept it. And there was already a lot of other Skippers that had been in the company as well. So, when the boat stopped doing overnights, they could just get one extra Skipper, then just swap around with a spare. Basically, my role wasn't that important all of a sudden.

CRAWFORD: Was there a break in your Skippering? Were you off for a spell?

ORTABAS: Not really. I was going to drive the Anita Bay instead of the overnight boat, which is the track boat. And then I got a job offer from Southern Discoveries, and then I started with them.

CRAWFORD: What year did you start Skippering for Southern Discoveries?

ORTABAS: 2010.

CRAWFORD: When you switched, did you start Skippering a variety of different vessels over the past five years?

ORTABAS:  Yeah. We just rotate. The boat they used to call [Aquido??] - not here anymore. That was like a service boat for the Underwater Observatory, she was only five metres long. Just take workers, take gear, back and forth. But that boat is gone.


ORTABAS: Milford Discovery - the boat we went out on yesterday.

CRAWFORD: What's the length of that vessel?

ORTABAS: Length of her is 16 meters. And then Lady Bowen, which is one of the encounter cruise boats - that's 21 metres, takes 99 people out. Then I drove the Spirit of Milford - that's 24 metres, takes 250 people out, that was a catamaran. And then we had Lady of the Sound, which is the boat Maiden, that JUCY is using now. And then I was a skipper on Pride, which is the company’s largest vessel. That's nearly 38 metres and takes 400 people.

CRAWFORD: And you were rotating through with the other Skippers on these vessels?

ORTABAS: Well, you start from the smaller boats. And then every year, if your alright - the company policy works really well. You just keep on progressing. And after that, the company bought a boat to operate in Queenstown, on Lake Wakatipu. So, I went to Queenstown.

CRAWFORD: When was that?

ORTABAS: Last year.

CRAWFORD: For one year, for one season?

ORTABAS: I did two summers and one winter, and I came back here about March last year.

CRAWFORD: And you've been here since?


CRAWFORD: Focusing on your time here, especially when you were Skippering and rotating through those vessels - typically, how many trips a day would you have be on, when you were working? Three trips a day? Seven days on, seven days off?

ORTABAS: Yeah, but ten days on, four days off.

CRAWFORD: When you add up all of those number of cruises on Milford Sound, you're going to be over a thousand?

ORTABAS: Yeah. Heaps.

CRAWFORD: Ok. And over that time period based here in Milford Sound, what other types of on-water activities were you doing, other than Skippering the workboats and cruises? Anything that was not described as a part of our interview so far? Boating, fishing, kayaking, anything?

ORTABAS: Scuba diving.

CRAWFORD: When you were scuba diving, were you diving here in Milford Sound?


CRAWFORD: Before Milford, did you do any scuba diving over on the Otago Peninsula?


CRAWFORD: Ok. Describe your scuba diving here.

ORTABAS: Mainly open water. Mainly just around the entrance [of Milford Sound] for Crayfish. While learning, just swimming and stuff. But after that, it mainly to catch Crayfish.

CRAWFORD: Did you ever do any freediving for Pāua, or anything like that?

ORTABAS: No. Mainly scuba diving.

CRAWFORD: Did you do any sailing, or anything like that?

ORTABAS: Sailing in Milford? No.

CRAWFORD: Fishing, you've been rod and reel fishing quite a bit?

ORTABAS: Lots of fishing. I love it.

CRAWFORD: Tell me about your fishing experience here. How many times would you get out there, roughly? 

ORTABAS: Maybe 10 times a year. Sometimes I fish inside the fiord as well, all the way out the entrance.

CRAWFORD: And sometimes just on the outside?

ORTABAS: For sure. Mostly Blue Cod. Sometimes I've tried to try to get some Groper.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Is there anything I'm missing about your marine experience in New Zealand? Is there anything we have not talked about that would constitute a fair amount of your time? Did you do any boarding, surf live saving, anything like that?

ORTABAS: I would do some coastal trips. Take the cruise boats from here to Dunedin.

CRAWFORD: How many coastals have you done?

ORTABAS: Roughly between 20 and 30 rounds.

CRAWFORD: Those are to Bluff, or Dunedin, or what?

ORTABAS: Some Bluff, some Dunedin.

CRAWFORD:  Which vessels were you taking on these coastal runs?

ORTABAS: All of them.

CRAWFORD: They have to go in for inspection every two years?


CRAWFORD: Is that you and all your experience in New Zealand waters?



CRAWFORD: To what extent has Māori culture and knowledge affected your thinking about marine ecosystems?

ORTABAS: No much at all really. Not since I came here from Turkey.

CRAWFORD: Same question, but for Science. To what extent has Science culture and knowledge affected you understanding about marine ecosystems?

ORTABAS: I guess a medium amount. Not so much from school education. But from other fishermen and Skippers. And maybe from the Skipper certifications.


CRAWFORD: What is your first recollection of hearing about, or seeing, a White Pointer?

ORTABAS: To be honest, I have never seen one.

CRAWFORD: When was the first time you remember hearing about White Pointers? And I am including back in Europe now.

ORTABAS: Ah, back in Europe. The first summer, when we used to do Bluefin [Tuna] season, we used to catch them. Once we caught them out at sea, we had another vessel that had a large net in a round circle, like a big swimming pool. We used to cage the Tuna while they were still alive, we never put the fish in the bag. And then we put, like an underwater tunnel basically, to the large holding pens, and then the fish will swim into them. And then they'll just tow them with them, and then bring them ashore. Sometimes they'll tow them for a week or so, it depends where you caught the fish. And when you caught the Tuna, you'd always get a big decent school of them.

CRAWFORD: Like how many, roughly?

ORTABAS: 100, 120 fish - that's a pretty good catch. We're talking about 40-50 kilo Bluefins. And then they'll just feed them sometimes. And sometimes they'll grab them from the nets. Because you fish over there in July, which is about 40-45 degrees. So, if you put the fish in the bag, even the freezers can't keep up, because the heat is crazy.

CRAWFORD: What was it about the Tuna operation that connected to White Pointers?

ORTABAS: The divers told us.

CRAWFORD: The divers?

ORTABAS: The divers we always have for running the Tuna in and out of the net.

CRAWFORD: You put divers into the water, in order to get the Tuna from the seine to the pen?

ORTABAS: Yeah. We were just catching the fish for a big company that we worked for. They had all the divers. They would dive into these holding pens, and they check to make sure that all the fish were swimming there fine.  And then that's when they said the White Sharks were following the big holding pens. They towed them like one and a half mile per hour, but there's constant feed going in and coming out the other side of them.

CRAWFORD: White Pointers, plural? Like you get a bunch of them?

ORTABAS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They saw a whole family once. But they'll get different kinds of sharks there as well. And they'll try to get into the net to eat the Tuna.

CRAWFORD: Would they actually tear their way through?

ORTABAS: Some of them. They would bite pretty hard, and they will try it. But also, when we were gillnetting, they would go through our nets.

CRAWFORD:  Ok. When you were fishing with your family in the Aegean Sea, did you see any White Pointers over there?


CRAWFORD: When you spent time based out of the Otago Peninsula, did you ever see any White Pointers there?


CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear from the old-timers or any people you knew over there, about White Pointers in the region?

ORTABAS: No. The only time I heard about White Pointers was when I first came here to Milford. I was talking to Skippers here from Stewart Island. There are lots of skippers from Stewart Island.

CRAWFORD: Like who?

ORTABAS: A guy called Gibby. There's a guy called [Royden??]. Adam. Dion. They all mainly work for [RJ's??]. Those guys used to dive for Pāua, commercial divers.

CRAWFORD: And what would they say?

ORTABAS: They used to see Pointers.

CRAWFORD: Was that mainly around the island, or here around Milford Sound?

ORTABAS: Mainly the island. And I didn't even know what the 'White Pointer' name was.

CRAWFORD: Did the Skippers ever talk about seeing White Pointers around Milford Sound?

ORTABAS: I do hear them, people, fisherman maybe. But not on our boats. Tourist boats doing circles in here - I can't remember anyone saying "There was a Great White here or there"

CRAWFORD: What about offshore, coastal waters?

ORTABAS: Fisherman. Yeah, you hear them say.

CRAWFORD: What would they say?

ORTABAS: They'll see a dorsal fin. Something like that, once in a while.

CRAWFORD: Ever any interaction with fishermen or their gear? Any of these animals get tied up in the rigging or otherwise?


CRAWFORD: In terms of seasonality, did any of the old-timers or locals ever talk about time of the year that you might see White Pointers around here? Or times of the year that you would not?


CRAWFORD: What about places? Were there places that were maybe 'sharky'?

ORTABAS: Yates Point. It comes up quite often.

CRAWFORD: Why is that?

ORTABAS: Yeah. Seal colony there? I don't know.

CRAWFORD: You've been up to Yates Point, once in a while?

ORTABAS:  Yep. You weren't far away from there last night, when we were out fishing. A couple of miles.

CRAWFORD: Yeah. Anybody you know who has ever seen a White Pointer taking a Seal around this region?

ORTABAS: Nah. The only thing ... I saw a Leopard Seal doing it.

CRAWFORD: Taking a Fur Seal?


CRAWFORD: I've talked with some of the Skippers about the freshwater conditions and the visibility in the sound, and how it changes with precipitation. What kind of animals have you seen when it's clear, that you wouldn't normally have seen? What kind of wildlife in general?

ORTABAS: Probably the craziest things. Orcas, about six of them one day. Out the entrance. Whales.

CRAWFORD: Coming into the sound?

ORTABAS: Yeah, in and out. This year was crazy. They were everywhere. About ten of them in one day. From entrance to inside the fiord. Leopard Seals, Fur Seals, Penguins.

CRAWFORD: What other kinds of fish? Maybe that stay submerged in saltwater layer, that you otherwise could not have seen?

ORTABAS: Sometimes you see Kahawai, school up at the surface in the summer. That's pretty much it, really.

CRAWFORD: Ok. How you ever heard of anyone that had an interaction with a White Pointer in this region?


CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s good. Thank you.

Copyright © 2017 Turgut Ortabas and Steve Crawford