Experience: Recreational Fisherman
Interview Location: Sawyers Bay, NZ
Interview Date: 21 December 2015
Post Date: 08 July 2017; Copyright © 2017 Warren Lewis and Steve Crawford
1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS
CRAWFORD: Alright Warren, let's start at the beginning, please. Where and when were you born?
LEWIS: I was born in Port Chalmers in 1949, in a little maternity annex based in Port Chalmers - not far from here.
CRAWFORD: You’re about as local as can be.
CRAWFORD: What was your first memory of the sea, or the Otago Harbour here?
LEWIS: My father, his brothers, and my grandfather were commercial fishermen in the harbour. My earliest recollection would probably be sitting in the back of a 12-foot rowboat with my father, probably about the age of three and a half or four years old.
CRAWFORD: Was he taking you for a ride, or were you actively fishing, or were you on your way to a boat, or what?
LEWIS: Both. We were fishing for Flounder in the harbour, and looking through a glass bottom boat, and my father pointing out various things. He would spear a Flounder, as the abundance of Flounder in those days was quite remarkable. He had a permit to fish, and to sell fish. It was eight of us in a 12-foot dinghy. That was my earliest recollection. But by the age of five, I did have my own small boat.
CRAWFORD: Please describe your father’s commercial fishing activities. Where and what kind of vessel?
LEWIS: It was a rowboat, large. What we call a seine boat. One of the family boats is in the local maritime museum at Port Chalmers. I resided in Deborah Bay. My father was one of 21 siblings. The instant crew of 12 sons and his uncles, they commercially fished a lot of the harbour, commercial setnetting for Flounder, Red Cod, Warehou, Trevalley. Up and down the harbour, and seasonally at the offshore beaches.
CRAWFORD: When you say 'beaches,' what do you mean?
LEWIS: These beaches right here. Around Warrington up to Blueskin Bay. But all shore beach seining, putting the big net out. That’s the method of fishing they had. Though my grandfather, when they arrived in 1862, they had a barque called the Blanch Barley. That was fished commercially, but it was ripped on the Otago Harbour at the entrance in 1870, something like that. They started fishing in the Otago Harbour, and fished it right up to the 1940s.
CRAWFORD: When your father was fishing, what was the split between harbour fishing and beach fishing?
LEWIS: Majority of the fishing would have been in the Otago Harbour itself.
CRAWFORD: Was there a seasonality to it?
LEWIS: Yes, very much seasonally. The Warehou and the Red Cod and the fisheries like that, dictated where they fished offshore, you know? Along the beaches and within the harbour they had the flatfish fishery. They also fished for Garfish, but it was seasonal. They took what was there, when the fish were there.
CRAWFORD: But they were fishing year-round?
LEWIS: Yes. That was their livelihood. My father did work in the local fish processing factory then, some 40 years on the Port Chalmers wharfs. But as a child, the necessity was at 12 - when you are able to row a boat, you were helping out Dad and the family.
CRAWFORD: Back in your fathers’ day, where were the fish processing plants?
LEWIS: Most of the fish processing was at the National Mortgage Fish Agency. That was down on the container port. All of those sites are gone now; been reclaimed and filled in. He fished there, processed fish there, for quite a number of years. A lot of people took advantage of the workers on the port, and he continued on there for 40-odd years. Their work there was dictated by the availability of work on the ships, and when there was no work on the wharf, the ships weren’t working, they supplemented their income by fishing in the harbour, you know? Things were hard in those days, I presume.
CRAWFORD: Let's get back to you. Age five, I think, when you got your own boat?
LEWIS: Yes. A boat called The Bimbo.
CRAWFORD: I'm guessing that you weren't able to man that boat without adult supervision?
LEWIS: Oh, no. I was a liability then, as I am now. [laughs]
CRAWFORD: You'd be out with an adult. Typically, your father or an uncle?
LEWIS: The whole family. Could be anybody.
CRAWFORD: But that was definitely Warren’s boat?
CRAWFORD: At what age did you no longer need anybody to go out with you?
LEWIS: They weren’t watching straight away [laughing].
CRAWFORD: When was that? Age 12?
LEWIS: Hell, no, no, no. We were seasoned fishers by that time. I was 6 or 7 pretty much on my own.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, you were pretty independent by the age of 7 or 8?
LEWIS: Yes. You know, we had my friends and we would go down and borrow the family boat. We had a boat shed straight across on the peninsula here. Right below it was a family boat shed. So, it was only a matter of just going down. But we never we remained in the local areas.
CRAWFORD: What would have been 'the local area' at that age?
LEWIS: Around Port Chalmers, the peninsula. We didn’t get too far.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever go to the outside of the peninsula?
LEWIS: No. Negative, no.
CRAWFORD: Was that a rule?
LEWIS: We would have been skinned alive.
CRAWFORD: That was too far? You could play within eyesight - that type of thing?
LEWIS: Yes. Around the boat shed, and stuff like that.
CRAWFORD: What percentage of the time were you spending in different activities on the water? Obviously, you had a boat. Were you swimming as well?
LEWIS: We swam, yes.
CRAWFORD: Did you do any type of harvesting in the water?
LEWIS: Oh, yes. We were fishing for Flounders and Mullet. Fishing at high tide when the tide came in. We had a little finger pier off the jetty. We would all sit down there and catch the local Bullies and Spotties. A lot revolved around the fishing. All the kids in Port Chalmers, we’d be sitting on the wharfs catching fish. There was no port security in those days. You were fishing alongside the boat, under the boat, round the ships. Mainly because in that age - baby boomers I think they called it - most of the kids' fathers worked on the wharf, indirectly or directly. They were always working. We grew up on the wharfs, in the water and fishing.
CRAWFORD: Any time you’re not actually parked in school or at church or at family functions, you’re going to be ...
LEWIS: On the water, yes. Yes, we have water everywhere.
CRAWFORD: Age 5 with the boat, age 8 with some degree of independence.
CRAWFORD: What’s the next natural break point, the next thing that changes in terms of your coastal places or activities?
LEWIS: My father’s boat. I use it to borrow it and the outboard motor
CRAWFORD: Motors are important, because they increase your range.
LEWIS: That’s exactly what it did.
CRAWFORD: At what age did you have access to an outboard motor?
LEWIS: 10 to 11 years old. The later part of that.
CRAWFORD: Was your adventure level fairly high?
LEWIS: It expanded dramatically.
CRAWFORD: Where did you go with that outboard?
LEWIS: We started going to the other side of the harbour, and went down to the peninsula side, going further afield. Not out at sea, but out of the confines of the harbour.
CRAWFORD: Was it the case that at the age of 11, the skinning factor was removed? That you were allowed? Your parents knew you were going over there?
LEWIS: Well, indirectly. I think it was accepted that you were seen.
CRAWFORD: And you didn’t get skinned?!
LEWIS: Ohhhh, numerous times.
CRAWFORD: But not for being over there?
LEWIS: No, they’d say, “What were you doing over there?” And the next question: “What did you catch, and what did you find out? And did you try there, and did you go there?” Because what we used to spare were the Flounders. In those days, we were able to dispose of a few Flounders here to the shop, and got pocket money to buy fuel to enable us to go a little bit further next time. It was a big adventure.
CRAWFORD: That was at age 11, when you had the outboard. What is the next major development in your history?
LEWIS: While I was doing that, my interest in the commercial boats, the bigger boats. I was always hankering or hanging on the shirt tails of some of the trawler skippers for a trip out on a trawler. I spent quite a lot of time with the older persons who were fishing in the local, Blueskin Bay inshore fishery. I was lucky.
CRAWFORD: Nearshore, but outside of the harbour. And roughly when were you going out on a semi-regular basis with the fleet? What age?
LEWIS: it was 11 through to 12-13. Even younger. Several of my uncles were working on the inshore fisheries.
CRAWFORD: Would it be the kind of thing that at the age of 11 or 12 you might go out on the big boats once per month - that kind of thing?
LEWIS: The big boats? Yeah, once per month, twice a month. But as we didn’t have school sports and stuff like that. Going out, I did suffer from sea sickness in those days. I would try to get out maybe roughly 12 times a year.
CRAWFORD: Tell me about the different types of fishing gear, fishing vessels, that were used in the nearshore fishery.
LEWIS: Out of the harbour here, my uncles worked on the inshore trawlers.
CRAWFORD: These were bottom trawlers?
LEWIS: Yes. And we would mainly fish in the Blueskin Bay area and slightly south of the Taiaroa Head and the big fishing grounds there.
CRAWFORD: Fish for what?
LEWIS: Flounders, Sole, Red Cod, stuff like that. Just bottom fishery. We did a few trips with another uncle who was bottom line fishing, and they used to fish in the waters out to the east of the Otago Peninsula,
CRAWFORD: Out to the continental shelf?
CRAWFORD: This was all day fishing from Port?
LEWIS: Day fishing only, yes.
CRAWFORD: Ok. What’s the next break point in your experience?
LEWIS: At the age of 15 ... What we have in New Zealand is the School Certificate, and you get a certificate and after that you are more or less free to go. You can leave school after 15 or 16, without going on to tertiary education. You sort of carry on.
CRAWFORD: When would this have been?
LEWIS: 1963/64. And I took up an apprenticeship to learn a trade as my parents did. So, I spent time learning a trade in those years, but I was carrying on. I was in painting and decorating wallpaper and glaze here. But the recreational part of my lifetime was still boating and boats. At the age of 16, I decided I was going to build my own boat. My father had a friend who was a very skilled boat-builder, and under his guidance at the age of 17, I had an 18-foot open boat with a motor and mast. The boat was named Pelorus, and then we started fishing. Not only in the harbour, but with the motor down, out towards Cape Saunders, this outside area of the Otago Peninsula.
CRAWFORD: What type of fishing was that?
LEWIS: Line fishing, mainly for Blue Cod.
CRAWFORD: Hand lining, rod and reel?
LEWIS: Rod and reel, hand lining, set lines, dan lines. Vertical, straight up and down. Not longline. We started putting setnets around some of the rocky areas to get some Moki and Greenbone, and later on into Ruge and Elephantfish or Spotted Gummy Shark.
CRAWFORD: Was this still recreation for you at the time? Or was it becoming commercial?
LEWIS: It was initially recreational. But in those days, you could apply to the Ministry of Fisheries to get a permit to fish. This was the prior to the management scheme coming in, so you could get a permit enabling you to fish.
CRAWFORD: The management program was brought in during the early 80’s?
LEWIS: Fisheries put quite a system in. And what they decided then, you had to earn 2/3 your livelihood of your fishing as your principal income. If you were just doing it part-time, you lost your permit.
CRAWFORD: At the point when you first doing this, you were maybe 16-17. When you started fishing at a higher level, was it still a hobby?
LEWIS: It was a hobby and a little bit of income, to subsidize the fisheries practices.
CRAWFORD: But that changed in intensity?
LEWIS: Yes, it did. When we could no longer sell the fish and stuff like that, we turned more to the sports fishery. And like all boys at that age, you find land-based activities, courting and stuff like that. So, they take a bit of time. But we were always fishing. Starting again a bit offshore.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever reach that level where you were primarily commercially fishing as a young man?
LEWIS: No, negative. I had a boat, but I had no desire to go fishing full-time.
CRAWFORD: But it was always a substantial past-time, in addition to other things that you were doing?
LEWIS: Absolutely, yes.
CRAWFORD: What’s the next point in your story where things change?
LEWIS: Really it didn’t. We just carried on. It was the lifestyle. But I got heavily in land-based activities. Recreational hunting.
CRAWFORD: So, there was a reduction in the amount of time on the water?
LEWIS: Absolutely, yes.
CRAWFORD: Before that shift into terrestrial activities, was it maybe 5 days a week on the water?
LEWIS: Not full days, but in the evenings and weekends. Weather permitting.
CRAWFORD: And was that eventually cut down by half, with the terrestrial activities?
LEWIS: Yes. Let's say 50/50. I was a very keen sports hunter and shooter. As I say, most young fellas my age, the first thing they bought was a vehicle, a car. I bought a boat. And then I purchased a small vehicle. Which allowed me to go on more land-based type operations, and then the fishing.
CRAWFORD: What age did you get a vehicle?
LEWIS: About 18-19. So, a late bloomer for motor vehicles. But my friends always had them. We got in enough trouble with my friends' vehicles.
CRAWFORD: I'm sure you did. When did you take on full-time employment?
LEWIS: Probably before I was 16, with my employer.
CRAWFORD: Were there any significant changes in your job that took you either to do different things, or took more time, or took you to different locations?
LEWIS: Not really. My employer was a private painter and decorator in Dunedin, and the work was based in there. During the weeknights, we would go home on public transport, be home by 6 pm. If it was a nice night, we would go. In the meantime, the factor here was that my father was still continuing his activities, you know? If there was no work on the wharf at the time, he would be fishing during the day or he would put a net down and come and say "Do you want to give me a hand, and pick up the net this evening?" and stuff like that. So, a lot of my recreational fishing also involved fishing with my father.
CRAWFORD: Ok. That pattern continues on. Does it continue on to this day, or was there another significant change in your 20’s or your 30’s, in terms of vessel or activity or gear or anything?
LEWIS: Fishing was still my principal recreational past-time, on the aquatic side. But then I got very involved in clay target shooting, and got very competitive, and was relatively successful in that. And for 10-15 years that involved a lot of travelling and shooting. I got very successful in that, Chief New Zealand Representational Status, and a lot of provincial shooting and that.
CRAWFORD: That would have been your 30's and 40's?
CRAWFORD: And that would have shifted your aquatic-terrestrial allocation? What was previously 50/50, would have become maybe 30/70 for that 20-year period?
CRAWFORD: When you were on the water, was the nature of your activities in the region - did that stay pretty much the same?
CRAWFORD: What then happened at 40?
LEWIS: I found that clay target shooting was consuming a terrible amount of time. Life was motoring on, and I started to get involved in the sports fishery. I began fishing for all types of stuff. As opportunities for the inshore fishery had been there, "Done that" you know? So then I said, “What about the sport fisheries?” It always avidly involved sharks. My great-grandparents, my parents, my uncles, they were all pretty rough and ready. And they fished for big sharks. I have numerous photographs and stories of my father, pictures of these big sharks hauled up on the beach. But until that stage, I’d never encountered or hooked one of these big sharks. Then I started to pursue the sports fishery, and getting into it more, and I got a sport vessel.
CRAWFORD: Let's focus on that. You were about 40 years old?
CRAWFORD: And you invested in a recreational fishing vessel?
LEWIS: Yes. I had built a 6.5 metre aluminium planing craft, with a motor on it, and set it up for sport fishing as such. With downriggers and gauges. It was the blind leading the blind for a while, because I looked at the activities ... there were a couple of elder persons from the Tautuku Fishing Club. We saw them fishing sharks several times over the years. And we decided "Well, let's get into this." So, we started out, and we floundered around, an excuse for fun. And I had a few encounters with some of these big beasts. I had no idea what was going on, and the success rate was absolutely abysmal.
CRAWFORD: When you say ‘success,’ you mean ...
LEWIS: Actually hooking, tagging the fish. It was all absolute chaos, you know? There was none of this line carry-on. We had nylon that was unbelievably thick. But over time we got very successful at it.
CRAWFORD: This was your mid-40s?
CRAWFORD: Ok. A new vessel, specifically geared up for sport fishing. You made a decision to shift your focus of activity.
LEWIS: I still had a small dinghy for fishing in the harbour. This just enabled us to travel a bit further off, and a bit faster.
CRAWFORD: When you start focusing on sport fishing, did it shift back to 50:50 aquatic-terrestrial split of time?
LEWIS: Probably even more so. Perhaps 60% aquatic. Very seasonal fishing.
CRAWFORD: Describe that, please. Roughly what seasons?
LEWIS: We would start mid-December, and fish extremely hard through to mid-April. We would compete in various competitions New Zealand-wide. But the New Zealand Big Game Fishing Council was then, and we had a couple of club competitions. For a long time, we were not associated with any club. We were just going out for the sake of it. As the expertise grew, and the success rate grew, and a bit of persuasion from some people to look up the Tautuku Fishing Club. We eventually joined, and for which I got heavily involved. To the state that it took a lot of time. But very avid on the sport fishery itself.
CRAWFORD: Would it be the case that by the age of 50 you were spending most of your spare time sport fishing?
CRAWFORD: And the terrestrial component would be 10% of your time now?
LEWIS: You can divide the year up, because we had the sport fishery, it got us through to April, And then starting in April we’d have the deer hunt. And then duck shooting, and that took us right through to perhaps the end of June/July. And we’d have the trout fishing. So, my calendar was full.
CRAWFORD: With regards to sport fishing, was it still the same vessel?
CRAWFORD: Tell me about the region that you would have focussed on.
LEWIS: Most of the shark fishing with my own vessel was around the Otago Peninsula, but we also we were trailer-borne. So, we also did trips to the west coast.
CRAWFORD: How frequently would those trips have been?
LEWIS: Once a year we would do a trip. We did our initial trek, we towed our vessel right through to the far north of the North Island, to the Bay of Islands, to catch Marlin. Stayed out in the Bay of Islands, the Urupukapuka Island. Made contacts up there, and then we progressed to doing a yearly trip to the far north on charter boats to catch Marlin. This took me 12 years and $22,000 before I actually hooked and released my first Marlin successfully.
CRAWFORD: 12 years of annually attempting? With a Marlin fishing trip every year?
LEWIS: Yes, till we caught one. That included offshore trips to Fiji, Australia, those are the only two places offshore.
CRAWFORD: New Zealand coastal waters then, from the age of about 50, you started expanding on these exploratory trips, in terms of places you hadn’t been before?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever do any fishing in Cook Strait?
LEWIS: No. No game fishing in that area.
CRAWFORD: When you say game fishing, this was big fish?
LEWIS: Yes, we’re talking pelagic sharks, Tuna and Marlin
CRAWFORD: That specific set of fish became your focus?
LEWIS: Totally. An obsession.
CRAWFORD: Let's pull that apart. The Marlin fishery was mostly North Island, and the northern regions thereof. In terms of the pelagic sharks, was that all the way around North and South Islands, or at particular hot spots?
LEWIS: No, I wouldn’t say that at all. We have them in the Otago region here. The actual Otago Peninsula juts out, close proximity to good deep tidal currents, and a very abundant supply of pelagic school fish. It was seasonal, very much based on water temperature that fluctuated.
CRAWFORD: Otago Peninsula was known, in your experience but also your contemporaries' experience, as being a hot spot for big pelagic sharks generally?
LEWIS: Absolute hot spot for pelagic sharks. Blue Shark, Mako Shark, we discovered the Salmon Shark, and a very good Thresher Shark fishery. If you knew what you were looking for. Thresher Shark, the size out here was absolutely amazing.
CRAWFORD: Just to give a sense of geography, what other places around New Zealand coastal waters would have something on the same order of magnitude as the Otago Peninsula - when it comes to pelagic sharks?
LEWIS: I may be biased, but I would say there would be very few areas that had the density or variety of those sports fishing sharks in such a small, confined area.
CRAWFORD: Fair enough. Keeping that in mind, where might region #2 and region #3 be?
CRAWFORD: The idea of submerged canyons, and the currents coming up?
LEWIS: Very much so. The upwellings from these canyons, and the proximity here of the deep water, reflected on our ability to catch the sharks.
CRAWFORD: What about the west coast?
LEWIS: Jackson’s Bay. But then again, such a huge area with very few access points, and very few people go fishing there. The sport fishing there, even now to this day, is just starting to develop along quietly.
CRAWFORD: So, it's not necessarily just a reflection of abundance of diversity of the target species. It's as much access in remote regions like that?
CRAWFORD: Have you fished with your vessel, with the same types of gear, over on the west coast of South Island?
CRAWFORD: When you fished there, did you catch sharks?
LEWIS: Yes. When we were over there though, you realize, I couldn’t see the point of travelling from a very prolific shark fishery here - right across to the other side of the country - to catch another damn shark.
CRAWFORD: But you did go there?
LEWIS: Why we went across to the west coast ... We were in ports for some times of the year. There were Marlin sighted, and there was a growing fishery for Swordfish. We thought we’d try our luck at it. And there was also the attraction of the Albacore Tuna. But going to the west coast was the social side of it. We had access to healthy Crayfish, Rock Lobster - just a social event. Opportunity to go out there and fish. Of course, we never caught any Marlin over there. We did see a Swordfish on the surface on one expeditions.
CRAWFORD: Was there anything else between then and now? Anything else that would be considered a major change in either your vessel or your area of interest?
LEWIS: Fishing practices. I’d say our sport fishery during this time was based around the Otago Peninsula. Because the vessel was trailer-borne, it meant we were mobile. So, a lot of time was spent south of Dunedin then - fishing the areas off Taieri Mouth River. Very, very prolific fishery down there for Blue Cod and Groper.
CRAWFORD: Why do you figure that area is so prolific?
LEWIS: Just an extensive marine system, very healthy fishery. Not a lot of trawl fishery going on, but a commercial extraction for Codpotting and setnetting offshore. But because you had access via the river mouth, it was only a 60-minute run.
CRAWFORD: A different type of fishing - not big game fish?
LEWIS: No. Sustenance fishing. Fishing for Blue Cod for your table. The harbour was then for Flounder fishery, and stuff like that.
CRAWFORD: When did the Salmon hatchery start up?
LEWIS: We always had a Salmon wild fishery in the [Otago] harbour. This was long before they were released fisheries into the harbour. The hatcheries and the smolt releases. We had an established Salmon run in the Taieri River and the Waitaki River, and we always had the wild run of Salmon - whether these were Salmon which didn’t go up the Clutha River. We used to start catching them at Cape Saunders, and Puddingstone Rock. Then the fish progressed up to the Moeraki headland, north of Karitane, and then the Waitaki River run up there. They were the two major Salmon runs.
CRAWFORD: Without even having a hatchery?
LEWIS: Without having a hatchery. We had a wild fishery in this harbour long before the Salmon fishery was enhanced.
CRAWFORD: What is your first memory of Salmon in and around the Otago Harbour and the Otago Peninsula?
LEWIS: As a kid, my father used to be fishing in the early days. Salmon was referred to as canneries. A lucrative bi-catch. Totally illegal. We weren’t allowed to catch or sell them. But they were sought-after fish. And there used to be fun and games, hiding these fish from the fish inspectors when going to the market. We would bury them in the bottom of the fish boxes. And the salmon were stuffed down the sides of gumboots. All these wonderful stories. They continued on. Even I was known to dispose of the odd canary for a lucrative price, in the earlier days.
CRAWFORD: When did the hatchery start up?
LEWIS: I can even name the fellow who looked after the first big release on the Portobello Marine Station over there - Gerry Wing. And he brought smolts down from a hatchery in the Waitaki River as part of the experiment, and they held them in the ponds at the Portobello Bay laboratory. They released them there. I don’t think there was any finesse from them, and they let them go. Those early releases were, I don’t know, late 70s or early 80s. We had a phenomenal Salmon fishery in the Otago Harbour - to the stage that there were no limits or regulations regarding that Salmon fishery. That fishery absolutely took off. Phenomenal. I’ve been out and caught 15 before breakfast, and 10 before lunch time.
CRAWFORD: Which species?
LEWIS: King salmon. They weren’t big fish, verging between 4 to 10 kg.
CRAWFORD: That initial release then, from Portobello, was that followed by annual releases after that?
LEWIS: Yes, they brought them down, and the Salmon Anglers Association was born. It has not been, given the small releases, it has never been as successful as the initial releases in the Otago Harbour, or the wild fishery before that in Blueskin Bay. A lot of activity down in the Clutha.
CRAWFORD: But when did the hatchery start up?
LEWIS: Must be 10 years or more now.
CRAWFORD: So the 2000’s?
LEWIS: Now there’s only a few being caught. Never been as prolific as the initial release. Scientifically, no one can explain why it was so successful, and the return rate and the capture rate of the first release was phenomenal. But not now.
CRAWFORD: Was this a seasonal fishery?
LEWIS: In the winter months, we decided we were going fishing we would take the trailer boat, depending on the conditions. Conditions were rarely prime in the Southern Ocean down there, with swells and stuff. We were frequently fishing these areas here around the peninsula.
CRAWFORD: There was always someplace to be fishing around here?
LEWIS: Absolutely. The situation in the Otago Peninsula, in certain wind conditions - it was always some way you could go fishing.
CRAWFORD: That’s interesting, because that’s a dominant theme that comes out of the Stewart Island fishermen as well. There was always a place around the island to go fishing.
LEWIS: The sport fisheries side of things now has waned. I’ve got to the point that I’ve said "Been there, done that." I won’t pursue it - to the degree that I have sold my fast boat. But I purchased an ex-commercial fishing boat, which is a large displacement boat, and it's extremely slow. And now I’m just puttering around. And I’m trying differing methods of fishing with that.
CRAWFORD: When did you sell and buy these boats?
LEWIS: Three years ago, I sold my sports fishing boat.
CRAWFORD: Had the fishery waned prior to that?
LEWIS: Yes. About 5-6 years ago I started to lose interest. As I say, the fishery here was seasonal, and you’ve only got a strike of two or three years going out drifting, sitting on the ocean, and not catching those sharks that you are targeting. And we were only practicing tagging and release. We weren’t allowed to target, and had no intentions of targeting, White Sharks because they had a protected measure on. Being seasonal, Bigeye Thresher Sharks and stuff can run. I just came to the feeling "Am I getting a thrill out of this anymore? What are the other things in life?" I decided I’m now going back to my land-based hunting. So, the interest waned a bit.
CRAWFORD: You mentioned tagging. What type of tagging, and for what reasons?
LEWIS: Just for keeping a record of the fish you’re tagging, the type of the shark, the size of the shark, the locality of the shark, just the general science of the particular animals you’re catching.
CRAWFORD: Did you do this in conjunction with a researcher?
LEWIS: The sport fishing lads, we purchased tag and release cards. Filled out longitude, latitude, type, sex.
CRAWFORD: So, it was a recreational community thing? Something that was organized by big game shark fishermen?
LEWIS: Yes. I think it was available to anybody who tagged. I think there was John Holdsworth who was coordinating that particular one. It had been done quietly, but never to the degree of madness that we took it. My personal tally was 1,392 sharks of various species - tagged and released.
CRAWFORD: When did that start?
CRAWFORD: Over the course of the next 12 years, approximately 1,400 individual sharks?
LEWIS: That’s tagged and released alive. And the sports fishery, we had a competition on it, with line weights.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Rounding up, 1,400 individuals in 12 years. That’s almost 120 fish per year, on average.
LEWIS: I think my best year was 390-something for one year, tagged and released.
CRAWFORD: Over that 12-year period, give me a rough breakdown of the percentage-by-species. What was the #1 species?
LEWIS: #1 was Blue Shark.
CRAWFORD: What percentage of the 1,400?
CRAWFORD: Of the remainder, what was the next greatest component?
LEWIS: Mako Shark, followed by Porbeagle Shark, Thresher Shark. Thresher were seldom released because they weren’t small. If you got a Thresher Shark, you had a trophy fish during the competition type scenarios. In the meantime, I got heavily involved in the recreational fishing aspect - advocacy to access to fisheries
CRAWFORD: Engaging with fisheries management?
LEWIS: Management of all the sharks and you know, this is not the local level, this is the national level. I became involved with the International Game Fishing Association for the area, just ensuring the rules and regulations.
CRAWFORD: When did that happen? When did you start spending time at the national and international levels? Twenty years ago?
LEWIS: No. longer than that. Thirty-odd years.
CRAWFORD: Even prior to you getting that off-shore pelagic fishing boat?
Copyright © 2017 Warren Lewis and Steve Crawford