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?
2. EXPOSURE TO MĀORI/LOCAL/SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS
CRAWFORD: Let's do the ranking about the effect of Māori culture knowledge on your understanding of the New Zealand coastal ecosystem.
LEWIS: on the low end.
CRAWFORD: Ok. And what about the effect of science knowledge on your understanding of the New Zealand coastal ecosystem?
LEWIS: Medium for science content. But again, it was only for the fact that I was so interested in the species, and I sought information on it.
CRAWFORD: That's what I'm talking about.
3. WHITE POINTER DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
CRAWFORD: What’s your first memory of either hearing about, or seeing, a White Pointer?
LEWIS: Probably about the age of 4 or 5. Being put on my fathers’ push bike. We were living in Port Chalmers, and riding down to Deborah Bay, and seeing a large White Shark pulled up the beach in the family residence down there - my grandfather’s residence.
CRAWFORD: How did this shark get caught?
LEWIS: My uncles were very robust, and their favourite past-time was the local brew. What you call the 12-gallon drum, a great big shark was suspended on it. They had gone to the harbour on a 12-foot dinghy, and attached the drum to one of the harbour beacons, and sat there and whiled away the day, slowing getting inebriated. They always said a smaller drum was first to pull the drum down, without ripping the hook out of the shark's mouth. So, they slacked out the rope, and tied it to the beacon.
CRAWFORD: What type of hook?
LEWIS: Fairly substantial, I reckon. Some of them were actually ridiculous, compared to the hooks that we use this day and age for the Swordfish.
CRAWFORD: What types of hooks would be typical for this type of thing? 8-inch?
LEWIS: Yes. A substantial hook, you know? 250 mm shank and gauge. Probably longer in the shank than you get between the barb and the hook. It was a horrendous looking thing.
CRAWFORD: What was it baited with?
LEWIS: Rabbits, fish, Barracouta. There was no etiquette in those days. There were kids, always trying to get Barracouta.
CRAWFORD: They’d be out there in their dinghy, having a pint, while this was fishing?
LEWIS: When they hooked the fish, now the drum does go down. They tried to cast off the line from the beacon, and attach the long line to the dinghy and proceed around the harbour ...
CRAWFORD: Proceed or get towed?
LEWIS: Get towed.
CRAWFORD: A ‘Nantucket sleighride’?
LEWIS: Yes, exactly! Just like the whaler's stories, but in a 12-foot dinghy.
CRAWFORD: Was your ancestry, your people, your family - did they derive from the whalers?
LEWIS: No, I don’t think they did. They came from Australia. And they were free men. They weren’t, you know, 'forced immigrants' to Australia. They brought their own fishing vessel here, on their own free will.
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, this is you as a youngster, your first memory of seeing one of these White Pointers pulled up.
CRAWFORD: How long had that kind of barrel fishing, targeting White Pointers - how long had that been going on?
LEWIS: Probably from the very early days.
LEWIS: Even earlier than that, because in the early years there was the remnants of the whaling station and ...
LEWIS: Down in the Otago Peninsula.
LEWIS: Yeah, down there. A big whaling station. And my grandparents lived in this bay over here - that’s called Deborah Bay
CRAWFORD: Just past Carey’s Bay?
LEWIS: Little wee white cottage, very small. No television at those times, so evening activities were rather restricted. But even my grandfather ... I have a White Shark tooth, caught in 1914. His stories about these sharks was with the early boats. These sharks used to follow him up after fishing Flounder. They were in the harbour all the time, these sharks. They were obviously more prevalent then, than what they are now. He maintained that they were habit forming, with the activities of the shore bays - the whaling station there.
CRAWFORD: I’m keenly interested in at least three different things you’re talking about now. Partly because of the observation from your grandfather and before him. There’s the historical context, in terms of how far back these stories go. Then there’s the observation of the White Pointers being in the harbour. And the idea that they were more prevalent then than now.
LEWIS: I think so.
CRAWFORD: But I'm also interested in the details of the targeted White Pointer fishery. Let's go back, with a little bit of structure. Roughly when did your family arrive here?
LEWIS: In the early 1860s.
CRAWFORD: From Australia. And even from the early days, 1860s, 1870s, this type of targeted White Pointer fishing - as far as you can recall, that was taking place by your family from the beginning?
LEWIS: Yes. It was the accepted challenge of the generation, to go out and tackle some of these large species of shark. When they were fishing in the harbour ... I heard my grandfather saying he’s coming back with large quantities of assorted fish, and the boat coming up. And he told me that quite often they had some of these big sharks actually following and swimming below these dinghies, and getting quite aggressive at times to them. Whether he was trying to scare the young fellas, or goodness knows what? But he relayed these stories too, rowing the boat onto the sand to get away from the aggressive attitudes of some of these larger fish.
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] Your grandfather describing a White Pointer responding aggressively to a dinghy - that would have been Level 4. Do you remember what the animal might do to put it in that Level? Was it chomping on the boat?
LEWIS: I remember him saying it was quite aggressive.
CRAWFORD: And these were big fish?
LEWIS: The same boats in those days were rugged. He described the actual oars on my uncle’s boat being physically knocked into the air. That the shark coming at him reaching in, beside the oars of the boat. Whether it was just the noise of the oars on the water, and the fish coming in on that?
CRAWFORD: The slapping of the oar on the water? Had they been fishing, and maybe had been gutting or cleaning fish on the boat?
CRAWFORD: So, they likely also had the blood and offal?
LEWIS: All the right ingredients. Mainly gutting. I don’t know what fish, I guess various fish, whatever was caught. They would say how the boats, there was water coming over the sides. All of the nets and everything were weighing down the boats. There is one of the boats in the Maritime Museum down at Port [Chalmers].
CRAWFORD: Roughly how big is the boat?
LEWIS: 18 feet.
CRAWFORD: So, it’s a big boat, as far as dinghies go?
LEWIS: Yes, quite heavily laden.
CRAWFORD: Ok. There’s the burley effect, from the waste process of the fishing. There’s the slapping of the oars. But you also indicated that your grandfather said these animals followed?
LEWIS: I suppose since they were pumping the boat, big square boxes pumping water, and blood coming out, just enough. It doesn’t take much to put the scent in the water. Given the sensory system of the shark.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Geographic context. Based on the dinghy fishing, I'm guessing almost exclusively in the harbour as opposed to the shoreline outside. Was this mostly in the harbour, early days?
CRAWFORD: Were there other sharks - other than the White Pointers - in the harbour?
LEWIS: Not that he mentioned. The Sevengill Sharks must have always been in the harbour. They're a long, ancient, predator shark. They must have been there.
CRAWFORD: But your grandfather didn’t talk about the Sevengills, just the White Pointers?
LEWIS: Just the Whites. The size, the enormity, the scale of the things. And the challenge.
CRAWFORD: Perhaps people would have had interest, and perhaps they might be concerned if a Sevengiller took a nip or something. White Pointers are a different game entirely, because if a White Pointer goes to Level 4, it could be life or death.
CRAWFORD: It's important to know where the effort was and was not. That dinghy fishery was not being executed outside of the harbour. It is quite possible that had it been, the same experiences would have happened?
LEWIS: Absolutely. I totally believe that the Otago Peninsula, the water column, the depth and all that ... these fish have always been in that area, but within the harbour, it's just obviously quite exciting.
CRAWFORD: Did your grandfather ever talk about why the animals would poke into the harbour? Was it perhaps for curiosity? Were they in for a feed of something? What did your grandfather think?
LEWIS: I think they were just ... It was a very healthy fishery, likely the White Shark, pelagic, will follow the food source - whether it be mammal or fish. In the early days, the harbour here was renowned for the vast quantities of Red Cod, Barracouta, and Warehou. If you’ve got these vast shoals of fish coming, these sharks will follow behind that. It's just natural.
CRAWFORD: Tell me about back in the day, the nature of the marine mammals here around the Otago Peninsula.
LEWIS: Now we’re getting to the cross-over of the early days of Otago Harbour. Marine mammals were originally here in the vast numbers. But the sealers had decimated the population.
CRAWFORD: Long before the 1860s?
LEWIS: Goodness, yes. Stories from the 1820s/1830s. They had just decimated the Seals. A lot of areas were not accessible to them, but many were. They certainly did very well with the Sealing.
CRAWFORD: By the 1870s/1880s, there wasn’t really that high abundance of Seals?
LEWIS: Absolutely not. And not to the degree they are today.
CRAWFORD: I’ve heard from Stewart Island that it was such an unusual thing to see a Seal, it would be cause for an attraction.
LEWIS: As kids, we’d line up to get a picture with them.
CRAWFORD: An early selfie! This is very important, you’re providing information that is very useful, because it goes back so far in time. Otago Peninsula was a very rich fishery. White Pointers are fish predators as much as they are marine mammal predators. But let's get back to the whaling station. When do you figure the whaling station shut down?
CRAWFORD: long before your family moved here?
LEWIS: Those would be the early founders, the Weller Brothers.
CRAWFORD: The whaling operations themselves, they were known to bring in big sharks?
LEWIS: How long is the memory of some of these sharks? Do they recall these activities?
CRAWFORD: You’re the first to bring that up - thank you very much. Whether or not the animals are able to learn something like that, how long can they remember it, and how long do they respond ...
LEWIS: And is the information passed on?
CRAWFORD: Yes - the social component of learning. During your grandfather's day, there was no whaling station. But there were fish sheds?
LEWIS: Absolutely. And there was a fish factory at Wellers Rock. A very large, established fish factory.
CRAWFORD: Did your grandfather ever talk about the White Pointers responding to the fish sheds? How did the fish sheds deal with their refuse?
LEWIS: Throw it out the side.
CRAWFORD: Right there?
LEWIS: Put it on the carts, on the boats, and take the drums and drop it outside the harbour. Depended how rough it was. In the old days, you’d tie-up here on the other side of the lighthouse. They used to drive the trucks all out there, and fire it over the cliff. And I have very early recollections of going down there with my uncles and cousins. I have cousins who are older than my father. Going down there, and watching the trucks pull up and seeing these trucks dump there, and seeing the shapes of these extremely large sharks. Obviously, they had to be White Sharks - that type of shark. You could just see them, and they were gathered there. They must have known the times that this stuff was being dropped down. So, they were habit forming. And then what’s to stop these sharks swimming 50 to 100 m on a flood tide, and swimming into the harbour?
CRAWFORD: Was it the case that your fathers’ generation would have thought that there was some relationship between the dumping off the head, and the presence of White Pointers - specifically in the harbour? That it would have attracted them?
LEWIS: I don’t know if they’d gone and delve too deep into that. Their aspect of the shark was, "There goes something we can catch, a challenge." There were all these shark teeth hanging around, and all these wonderful stories. But also bear in mind a lot of these trawlers out there, they’d load up a big load of fish, and we got sloppy and stuff in those days. They’d come in and they’d lay off in Port Chalmers and clean their fish out there.
CRAWFORD: Cleaning stations? The trawlers would come in and clean at these stations?
LEWIS: Just lay up, you know? If it was too rough on the outside. Put an anchor down and clean. A lot of fish wouldn’t be allowed, too 'green' as we would call it.
CRAWFORD: Under ideal conditions, would they be cleaning on their way in?
LEWIS: Most of them would be cleaning on the way back, but quite often they’ve got quite a large bag of Elephant Fish and ground fishes. But a lot of them were just trying to get home. They’d clean all the way to the harbour. So, if they get a large bag of fish out here, they’ll just clean the fish - instant burley trail and the deep water, good tidal flow. These sharks, they’ll follow you in.
CRAWFORD: Was there any indication from the old-timers that sharks were actually seen following these fishing boats?
LEWIS: Oh, yes, yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: Including the White Pointers specifically?
LEWIS: You listen to the stories when I was in my younger days. Uncles who were crewing for boats, stories from the older fishermen, they had the boat lying over, flinging the fish out of the nets and having the nets attracting the sharks.
CRAWFORD: Even prior to any cleaning?
LEWIS: Yes! Even prior to cleaning. A big net of fish lying there was an attraction. I can remember Allan Anderson telling me they got a very large one. A big set net I thought they had. He stepped off the boat, onto this thing thinking it was dead, and they were just going to photograph it. The damn thing rolled, and he got between the boat and the fish. It wasn’t very far, but it was a huge step.
CRAWFORD: Do you have any other recollections of following behaviour by White Pointers without any kind of fish cleaning?
LEWIS: Yes, yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: They would follow certain boats, or follow any boats?
LEWIS: No. They’d follow some boats, and it must be habit forming thinking, you know? Most fishing boats have stuff running off the deck. So, you have the burley trail. But there have been stories of the large shark following at a distance behind a boat. That could be habit forming. Sharks are always following boats, one way or another. They are creatures of habit. I’m pretty sure there are few fish that actually raise their heads out the water to make observations. You watch a documentary, and they are actually observing something. Something in the brain says "I recognize that source or that type of source, and associate it with food or scent." I don’t believe they are totally unintelligent, I believe they are highly intelligent, hence their place in the world as predatory animals. They don’t blunder into things, they think.
CRAWFORD: in terms of your observations, and of the observations of people that you know, have you heard of situations where a shark will come and circle a boat whether or not it is fishing?
LEWIS: Yes, I’ve heard, you know the old ‘Jaws’ syndrome of the big fin going around the boat. But I’ve never heard of one actually physically attacking a boat. Although I’ve had my grandfather’s relation, the one with the shark approached and broke the oars of the boat. But I’ve heard of a shark mouthing the motor or something like that. I personally have had a large Mako Shark encircle the whole bottom end of a 200 horsepower motor. Gives a relation to the size of the fish. The Mako Shark and the White Shark are similar, so they tell me.
CRAWFORD: I want to go back to the mindset of your father and grandfather’s generation, with regard to hunting White Pointers. You’ve described them as a rough and ready lot. For them, this was a challenge?
LEWIS: It was.
CRAWFORD: Let's explore the nature of that challenge. The nature of the intention, and the nature of the trophy, the teeth. But was there any sense that the White Pointers in the harbour, or around that region generally, posed a threat to people? Was it risk mitigation, at least in part?
LEWIS: No. I don’t think it was risk mitigation. No, it wasn’t that. It was just the challenge. It was "My grandfather done it, my father done it, my brothers done it." This was my father’s generation I’m talking about. It was a challenge for them. It was a recreational past-time to the extreme.
CRAWFORD: It was 'extreme fishing' before there was this modern phrase of 'extreme fishing'?
LEWIS: Yes. As I said, my father’s cousins who were all … it was just part of their thing. You just went and caught a shark. And even when those days were gone, my uncle Bert, he was a commercial fisherman, he had a 35-foot long boat, just a line boat in those days, the motor is still around. He would go out and bait, hanging various items over the side, and he would chum them up. This is more off the [Taiaroa] Heads, because it was a bigger boat. I’m talking at the entrance to the harbour. He would harpoon them. Like he would hook the shark, and they would lance them with a big harpoon, you know?
CRAWFORD: That’s not the first time I’ve heard about that either.
LEWIS: My uncle Bert, old-time line fisherman, knew GPS marks, you know? ‘Galleys, Pine trees and Stumps’ is the old GPS system. Miles off shore, line fishing. And I can’t understand why he would, as a commercial fisherman, why he would all of a sudden go to sharks. Another local fisherman, quite a lot younger, met a local man here, Lawrence Waters. They used to team up, and used to use God forbid, the odd marine mammal for bait.
CRAWFORD: This was back in the day.
LEWIS: Oh yes. The wild west days on the east coast.
LEWIS: No, no. This is my time. Late ‘50s through the ‘60s, Uncle Bert used to do that. It was just recreational. It was in their blood, and they had to go and do it.
CRAWFORD: Given the fact that your family was, at least in part commercial fishermen, was there anything by way of harvest or sale of White Pointer flesh or trophies?
LEWIS: No, I don’t think so. They all had a little wee tin, full of sharks’ teeth. You know, bit of a thrill actually. You could never, ever give one. “If you want one, you go and get your bloody own” - which annoyed me. [laughs] But I’m not sure my grandfather … he passed away long before I came on the scene, I never actually knew him. I’m relaying some stories from my father. But he did make various homeopathic remedies, as you might call them. Cod liver oil, goodness knows what. My father would say “Hold on to your nose,” and he’d pour this rubbish down you, and it would give all cures. But no, I don’t think he sold it commercially or anything like that. But he did have his own small-scale manufacture of shark liver oil.
CRAWFORD: For personal consumption. Ok. Let’s go back to the previous generations, the old-timers. Had they said anything about the nature of the distribution or the abundance, the seasonality of White Pointers in Otago Harbour?
LEWIS: They always seemed to go out over the warmer months, longer evenings and stuff like that. They would work during the day, and pick up a couple flagons of beer, and go and sit out and spend the evening out there trying to catch one of these fish.
CRAWFORD: All of that silly buggers’ fishing was in the lower harbour?
LEWIS: Oh, yes. Majority of it was done opposite of Deborah Bay, the family home. Sometimes they’d set the drums, throw back in, and party up on the shore. They were a pretty wild bunch.
CRAWFORD: Did the old-timers have any other observations of unusual behaviour, or anything else that they saw of the White Pointers back in the day?
LEWIS: No, they never said that. There were no stories of sharks being rough on the boat, or stuff like that. The method they used was to tire them out on the drums, then stick these long lances or harpoons into them, subdue them, and row and pull the things ashore onto the beach. Pull them up on the windlass in front of the family home there. We’d all go out, “The uncles have got their fish,” and it was a major event. People would line up. But you see my family weren’t the only ones - there were one or two other families around the place doing the same thing. There was an old fisherman out of Carey’s Bay, south of here - Bill Attfield. He had a net-making business, and fish curing thing. I think one of the largest sharks that we caught in the harbour was caught right off his little jetty - it was opposite the Carey’s Bay fishing wharfs. The trawlers would come in, and he caught this shark in a Mullet net, 1-2 inch net. And I believe that’s the largest ever. There are photographs around of it. And it was absolutely huge. Its girth was phenomenal. It was a 6 metre+ fish with photographic records. It was late 50’s/early 60’s, but I can remember it vividly. It was such a huge, massive fish. But you know, even if you go back in the historical records, there are similar pictures of old fellows with a sailing ship in the background. So, historically they’ve been there, you know? Probably was caught on the drum and hook, but could have been setnetting.
CRAWFORD: That’s an interesting observation. Those setnetters, they would have been working for food or commercially?
LEWIS: No, no. Just people out in a dinghy, putting their net down to catch a fish in the harbour. There was very little commercial fishing going on in the harbour.
CRAWFORD: In terms of the number of White Pointers caught in setnets versus sharks that were barrel-baited, what do reckon?
LEWIS: Probably more in the setnets, because they were down over night and goodness knows the actual time that the net had been in the water. So, with all the nets in the water, the more chance to get entangled.
CRAWFORD: With regards to sex of the fish, male or female. A lot of times when there’s a White Pointer observation, people may see the fish, and it could be a large fish - but unless the fish happens to roll over, it’s unlikely that you’ll know if it’s male or female.
LEWIS: What I know now, and I’ve been looking at the photographs, the majority of the larger White Pointers were females.
CRAWFORD: Both females and males were caught in Otago Harbour, but based on the photographs, most of the larger animals were females?
LEWIS: Yes. But I think that’s common with this type of shark. The female sex is larger than the male. It’s definitely the case with the Mako Sharks we catch off the Otago Peninsula here.
CRAWFORD: Because of your rather unique circumstances back in the day, in terms of having these White Pointers hauled up on shore, the sharks would have been cut up. Do you recall any stomach contents from any of these White Pointers?
LEWIS: No. [laughs] That was not sort of done in front of the kids, or anything like that. But undoubtedly it was done, I knew.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever hear from the people who did the cutting? About what they had been feeding on?
LEWIS: Oh. yes, My uncle Bert, he was into the dissection of these blokes, and marine mammals featured quite heavily in them. Seal and various Dolphin parts.
CRAWFORD: That is very interesting. Putting into context from what you said yesterday, back in the day, the Seal colonies were not nearly what they are today. When you’re finding Seals inside of a White Pointer’s gut - combined with the fact that the Seals were then relatively rare. It suggests there was some strong preferential feeding going on. You already said this was a very productive fish ground as well. If the White Pointers wanted to feed on fish, the fish were there for the taking?
LEWIS: That’s right. But whether these marine mammals died of natural mortality, or stuff like that, who knows? These sharks are opportunistic feeders. Very much so. I’ve seen a whale carcass off the coast here, and the amount of bites and damage done to it by sharks was quite horrific.
CRAWFORD: Have you ever seen whale carcasses with sharks actively feeding on them?
LEWIS: Not actually feeding. But I have seen a whale carcass offshore with the big bite radiuses and stuff. We fished alongside it, as long as we could endure the stink.
CRAWFORD: Let’s talk about those Dolphins. What do you know about the distribution and abundance of Dolphins in the region? Say within 10 kilometres on either side of the Otago Peninsula?
LEWIS: Very large amount of Dolphins. For instance, up and down the coast here. We have a resident Dolphin population round the Otago Harbour entrance, and into Blueskin Bay here. Very, very often we see them - all the time. And then there’s the lot south of the peninsula. Now and again, they may come down through Wickliffe Bay, but there is a reasonable pod round Aramoana and Blueskin Bay.
CRAWFORD: Any observations regarding Dolphin-White Pointer interactions?
LEWIS: No, not really. Let’s say when these sharks turn up, to be there when the Dolphins are there at the same time, everything would have to be dead right. No, I’ve never seen a shark around the Dolphins.
CRAWFORD: Therefore, you have not seen Dolphins running at White Pointers?
CRAWFORD: Do people talk about that?
LEWIS: Yeah, they talk about it. But I’ve never seen it.
CRAWFORD: Or heard about it from a reliable source?
CRAWFORD: Refresh my memory, when did you actively start shark fishing as a primary focus?
LEWIS: Oh, 1982 or so.
CRAWFORD: So, you started shark fishing prior to the protection for White Pointers?
CRAWFORD: Did you ever actively target White Pointers recreationally before protection?
LEWIS: Yes, but I never caught any.
CRAWFORD: In terms of the different shark species you’ve caught, you’ve got Blues, Makos, Porbeagles, Threshers, and White Pointers. Is there a difference in terms of the recreational shark fishing community, in terms of species-specific tactics and the strategies?
LEWIS: No, it was straight up.
CRAWFORD: You just go shark fishing?
LEWIS: Shark fishing. Line suspended out the back, on balloons at various depths, and copious quantities of burley and fish offal.
CRAWFORD: On your vessel, typically how many lines would you be running?
CRAWFORD: And where would you go fishing?
LEWIS: Majority of that fishing was done here, due east of the Otago Peninsula. We were working on tagging results. All our GPS references are basically in this area. We went out about six miles north of the Heads, and we would stop and just drift back down to here.
CRAWFORD: Drift fishing?
LEWIS: No, trolling. And the same in the south here. If it was flowing from the south, we would go down towards Wickliffe Bay and we would just drift up into here. So, just drift fishing.
CRAWFORD: Primarily just off the peninsula?
LEWIS: Yeah. Very seldom do we get more than six miles offshore.
CRAWFORD: Had you tried shark fishing elsewhere, and this was simply the place where you got results?
LEWIS: This was the place with the best results. Minimal cost and maximum return.
CRAWFORD: Were there other people out there, shark fishing as well?
LEWIS: Yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: How big was that fraternity?
LEWIS: Oh, there’d be ten, who seemed to have a reasonable idea of what they were doing. The sport fishing outfit was very, very competitive. And then there may have been another dozen in the fishing clubs who had no idea, but went through the motions.
CRAWFORD: But ten serious operators?
LEWIS: Yes. That’s boats, and then you have your crew on each, so it might be two to four per boat.
CRAWFORD: This was highly competitive, in the sense of clubs on a local or regional level. But there were also national titles, international titles?
LEWIS: Yes, yes.
CRAWFORD: Was it the case that people came in from elsewhere to fish sharks around the Otago Peninsula?
LEWIS: Yes. We had one or two fishermen from the other fishing clubs come down to poach our waters. [laughs]
CRAWFORD: That was the way it was referred to?
LEWIS: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. You know, “You go back up to your side of the woods.” But very little competitive fishing south of here. There was a fishing club in Fiordland. But we had the Tautuku Fishing Club. And then we split up because of the internal politics, newbies against the oldies. So, we set up one in Port Chalmers.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Getting back to your shark drift fishing, Was this largely a seasonal thing as well? Summer months?
LEWIS: Yes, yes. Absolutely. Early December, through to ... they were tapering off in April. I think it tapered off because it was getting into time to go deer stalking and duck shooting and goodness knows what. So, yes it was seasonal.
CRAWFORD: Seasonal, in part because of the nature of the harvest, but seasonal in part because you had other things to do?
LEWIS: Yes. But that time of the year round here is extremely productive for the shoaling fish. Seems to be a natural eddy or gyre here, and it’s very, very productive for pelagic Jack Mackerels, and Barracouta and Kahawai, and a good natural food scene. So, you have to look at it ... you’ve got the marine mammal population growing out of proportions here, and then the natural fish food. Fish food, Seals, the whole thing.
CRAWFORD: A shark fisherman’s paradise?
LEWIS: Absolutely. And the number of taggings reflected that.
CRAWFORD: I want to get back to that tagging briefly, in this regard. I’ve seen your logbook, and the records of toughly 1,400 tagged fish.
LEWIS: May not seem a lot, but my personal tagged and released ... sometimes we ran out of tags. Those fish really weren’t recorded for the books.
CRAWFORD: But all of this supports the idea that this is a shark abundant region.
LEWIS: But it is seasonal.
CRAWFORD: Let’s talk about the general strategy that you deployed as a shark fisherman. Depending on the wind, you would situate yourself relative to the tip of the peninsula. You would drift across, you said you had typically four lines in the water?
CRAWFORD: Would you fish at different depths?
LEWIS: Yes, you can stagger the depths. A wee sports fishing boat, outriggers. One line 50-60 metres back, another one 10 metres back, and the back of the boat. So, normally a W-configuation.
CRAWFORD: Far and near, far and near?
LEWIS: Yeah. You didn’t want the shark taking this bait, and then swimming over and taking that bait.
CRAWFORD: Right. Tell me about depth distribution.
LEWIS: Anywhere from 3-4 metres from the surface, because the birds were a pain in the backside. If the bait was too shallow, the Shearwaters and the Albatross would be diving on your baits. And if you got a bit of movement, your baits would naturally come to the surface. So, we set a deep bait 20-25 metres down. Well if your burley is going out the back, and it’s sinking, and the birds went out, the back would be the deepest set. Because your burley was out at that depth, your bait needs to be at that depth. As you get closer to your boat, the burley gets shallower, and your line.
CRAWFORD: Tell me about the burley. What type?
LEWIS: Oh, fish offal. Which we obtained from the local fish processors. The Sole frames and stuff like. Then we go out fishing, and if the lines were set, and there was a lot of shoal fish around, we would be actively jigging, catching Barracouta, and jagging or snagging Mackerel and stuff as live baits and as a good bloody bait, you know? You full on keep that bait supply up. The more burley you put out, the more bait you put out, the more chances you’re going to get a shark.
CRAWFORD: Did it matter if you minced, or were you just kind of using heads?
LEWIS: Oh, we had a burley bucket out the back - a bucket with a chopper in it, which we chopped up our baits as we caught them. My ‘operational centre’ as they called it, my boat's head run, I had a large butcher's grinder, which is a big commercial mincer, and we’d feed probably 500-600 kg of fish through that, and about three or four big household freezers going there, which we put all our fish into 10 litre buckets, paint buckets. And we’d have 150 to 200 10 litre buckets all the time in those freezers. And if they were frozen when we took them out, what we’d do is knock a solid ice block of this burley into another bucket which was hanging off the back. As it thawed, we’d put the stream out so we’d have the defrosting burley going out through the bucket. Plus we had a chopper bucket going and sitting down the back here. You’re cubing out, and firing out the cubes as they’re going deeper. It was an absolute mess.
CRAWFORD: I can imagine. In general, on a typical day, for a full day's fishing, how much burley would you go through, in terms of the frozen stuff?
LEWIS: Related to buckets, anywhere between 10 and 20 10-litre buckets over the course of the day. Rarely we’d run out. If the water was reasonably warm, it went rather quickly. If the water was a bit rough, if it was surging back and forth in the boat, it stirred the burley up a hell of a lot, that made it go quickly.
CRAWFORD: Was the wind moving with the surface water?
LEWIS: Well, the tide invariably closed north-north east here. But we preferred to come from the north, because the drift was so much slower.
CRAWFORD: Was a slow drift more productive than a fast?
LEWIS: Yes. If you’re fast, you've got the fish further back. The Mako Sharks and stuff like that. They invariably come to the top and you can see their fin swimming at the top of the water.
CRAWFORD: And they or may not take the bait?
LEWIS: Yeah. Oh look, normally they took the bait - most times. They’re just a terrible fish.
CRAWFORD: 'Terrible fish' in terms of what?
LEWIS: Well, they were just so aggressive.
CRAWFORD: Tell me about the baiting then. What would you use on the hook?
LEWIS: The best bait was a fillet or a slice of fresh Barracouta, that’s a long silver fish, and you put your hook in right at the centre,
CRAWFORD: Makes the bait waggle?
LEWIS: Yeah. If you can get at the Jack Mackerel, a good fresh fillet of that. Just a hook through the fish itself. Not so much live, it tended to create all sorts of hassles, but just fish suspended in the water, that’s great.
CRAWFORD: What type of hook would you use?
LEWIS: Oh, at the end we were definitely using barbless hooks. And stainless steel. It’d be no more than 2-3 inches. Big hooks. Stainless are better, get a sharper point on them. We’d take the barb off for the fisherman tag and release program. If you did see a very good big specimen off the back, you tend to put the heavier gear on, and hope you’re going to hang onto it - you know the fish were pretty far. But the same size hook all the time, and sometimes we would gang hook them, two hooks. All in accordance with the regulations. We found we would do better with just a 2 metre wide trace and a heavy monofilament. We usually found that the big heavy wide trace tended to make a fish shy. But everybody had their own methods, goodness knows what.
CRAWFORD: You told me yesterday you have never recreationally caught a White Pointer. But you’ve caught thousands of big pelagic sharks. Why do you think you never caught a White Pointer?
LEWIS: If I could answer that, I’d be a very happy man.
CRAWFORD: It wasn’t for lack of trying.
LEWIS: No, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. We never really pursued.
CRAWFORD: And you are a Lewis!
LEWIS: I never specifically tried, not sports fishing, to target a White Shark. Not other than the silly days in the harbour, and that’s not sports fishing.
CRAWFORD: I was getting the impression that for sport fishing, for the big sharks, it was the same technique for all of the different species.
LEWIS: Absolutely it was. Here we are, we are going back in the water, what’s comes along? We did alter our fishing technique for the Thresher Sharks. If we were going out for Thresher Sharks, we were going out for nothing else.
CRAWFORD: Without giving away trade secrets or anything, just put me in the neighbourhood ... Was it gear change, or location change?
LEWIS: Gear change. Very slow troll. Had the burley going and the auxiliary just ticking over, and just a deep-sit bait, small Barracouta, chin strap through the nose, and just moving on the outriggers, and that worked out absolute. But we still had the burley going out.
CRAWFORD: Always with the burley. Did you ever try fishing without burley?
LEWIS: Only when we ran out. [laughs]
CRAWFORD: Was it the case that when you fished without burley your production was ...
LEWUS: Oh, way down. There’s no comparison. The burley was the catalyst to the whole thing. You’d get out there, burley for an hour and a half, two hours, before you actually got the fish, you know? Patience was the essence. Now and again, you throw a bucket of burley over, and there was a fish right at the back. But that was just a coincidence. The Blue Sharks were mostly a pain in the backside. You’re not going to catch a Mako Shark in the 40 or 50 Blue Sharks swimming around your burley. We would move off.
CRAWFORD: What other regions, especially around the southern end of South Island, where else might shark fishing take place?
LEWIS: Off Godley Head, because there’s a Canterbury Sports fishing club there. I don’t know what would be going on up here because there’s no groups of dedicated shark fishermen between Banks Peninsula and the Otago Peninsula. There’s a fishing club at Shag Point here, but they were just Blue Cod, Red Cod. Very carry on. Moeraki Township - again, it's you know, holiday camps and sort of carry on commercial port. But I don’t think it was anybody specifically going out targeting big game fish.
CRAWFORD: What about south of Otago?
LEWIS: Not really. There’s always been the stories around Stewart Island you know, going out fishing for these sharks. From the local fishers down there.
CRAWFORD: Right. But now, I’m talking about people like you, people that are shark fishermen.
LEWIS: Very, very few. But then, we went round down the coast, you know? There was a game fishing club which was more or less based out of Milford Sound.
CRAWFORD: What were they targeting?
LEWIS: All game fish. They had the Bluefin Tuna go down there, Albacore Tuna.
CRAWFORD: Any shark fishermen?
LEWIS: Yeah, definitely shark fishermen.
CRAWFORD: Maybe I’ll get you to try to think of names of people – referrals down south or the west coast.
LEWIS: Fiordland - I wouldn’t be able to recall names now, because it's been so long.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Were there ever any people who were recreationally targeting sharks as you were, competitively or otherwise, who caught White Pointers?
LEWIS: No. I can categorically state, there has never been a White Shark landed by any club member, or fishing club member, in our waters.
CRAWFORD: And prior to protection, could you also categorically state that the majority of those people would have wanted to catch a White Pointer?
CRAWFORD: There must be something then about the nature of recreational shark fishing, in terms of the gear, the place, the technique, one way or another - that the White Pointers are simply not responding to?
LEWIS: Oh, well the tackle was not heavy to hang onto. I’ve had many occasions where we’d hooked a fish, haven’t identified the fish, and we’ve likened it to trying to stop a steam train on the rod and reel. There’s just no show.
CRAWFORD: But still, you would expect some of the smaller, individual White Pointers that might be in that region ...
LEWIS: Well, I don’t know. One of the observations I’ve heard, was that the smaller White Sharks ... I would suggest, everything you hear about is 10, 12, 14, or 16 feet, you know?
CRAWFORD: Have you, or anybody that you know, ever seen any very small White Pointers around the Otago region?
LEWIS: Oh God. I’ve gone down to identify fish, you know, someone says, "Oh, here’s a small White Shark." You go on down there, and it’s obviously not a Mako, but you know damn well with the keel on the tail and the shit in its teeth pit, it’s a Porbeagle Shark.
CRAWFORD: Right. But aside from cases of mistaken identity, have you heard of anybody seeing smaller White Pointers around here?
LEWIS: No, I’ve never.
CRAWFORD: What was the smallest White Pointer you've seen here? Lifetime?
LEWIS: Ten feet would have been ... but normally when we see a White Shark, you know, they’re all big. [laughs] In relation to what we’ve been fishing for, something that size, or that bulk, comes past, its classed as Big.
CRAWFORD: Even a 10-footer, even the smallest seen?
LEWIS: Yeah. It's still a very big fish
CRAWFORD: Yes, it is. The point is, that despite numerous observations and catches from setnets and baited barrels, aside from observations of animals in the wild, aside from observations at the offal dump - aside from all of the effort that has gone into burley-based, targeted large pelagic shark fishing - no one round here has ever caught one?
LEWIS: No, not sports fishing. Just incidental catches from long-lining and the setnetters further south, they do have the odd entanglement, even to this day. But because of the protection status on these White Sharks, you know, it's just kept in house. I know anecdotally that there have been some very nice trophy jaws seen and not reported. But as far as sports fishing goes, at the club level, and just general recreational fishing, no. But the nature of the recreational fisherman, someone who has to catch one or hook one, I would know that. For example, on Saturday, I had a report from a fellow who we know, who went down for an early pass on Cape Saunders here, and he said he had a very big tail of a fish come out, behind the boat. And he was burleying, but the fish never came up. He just described it as very big.
CRAWFORD: And there are very few fish in the sea that have that big of a tail?
LEWIS: Yeah, that’s right. And that fellow, he is a very reliable source, he’s one of the ones who’s continued on what we were doing 6-10 years ago. Not too serious, but he’s a very efficient fisherman.
CRAWFORD: Have you heard of anyplace else where people have either intentionally or incidentally, using sport fishing gear, have captured White Pointers?
LEWIS: Oh, yes. Captured and killed. Up around the Three Kings Island, there was quite a large population of White Sharks. Fifteen nautical miles north of North Cape.
CRAWFORD: Yes, right at the very tip of the North Island.
LEWIS: Yeah, very tip. Really prolific to catch Marlin and stuff like that.
CRAWFORD: Was that targeted shark fishing?
LEWIS: No. Incidental bycatch, you know? Targeting Marlin and these fish attacking the Marlin on the line, and getting tangled, and that. And also on the west coast off the Hokianga Harbour, all those, there are sports fishing clubs. Stories of people hooking them whilst going fishing.
CRAWFORD: What was your thinking was back in the day, about why these White Pointers were up north there? You and the game fisherman, and other people who had knowledge about the distribution and abundance of sharks in New Zealand coastal waters. What are they doing up there?
LEWIS: Anecdotal knowledge says that the female White Sharks come in there to pup, into these big harbours up there. Again, it's very, very variable. You could have a period of two or three years when it's very lean. And then whether it’s only temperature and the water currents coming in, we get the pelagic fish come in, also the squid fishery plays a lot on it. Again, you've got a very strange animal, and they could turn up in very large numbers - like off this area here [Otago].
CRAWFORD: Ok. Substantial year-to-year variation. But what I’m trying to get to here, was the thinking of you and your peers about places in New Zealand coastal waters that are important for White Pointers. You mentioned places where the females were pupping. I'm also interested in places where males and females might be involved in courtship and mating.
LEWIS: Yes, for the pupping - that’s far north. I think they’re just following a seasonal pattern or habit, that when the Seals are here and the pelagic fish are there, they are here and there. And I think these fish we see here are migrating following some sort of end-built pattern. That’s my observation. I believe the White Sharks are here at Otago because of the marine mammal population and the fish and that.
CRAWFORD: Let's get back to distribution and abundance over time. Do you think that the White Pointers at the Otago Peninsula are a resident population, or do you think that they are here for a period of time, and then move on in a different season?
LEWIS: My personal view is that they’re migrating. They’re a fish that’s following a set pattern, probably have done so for years and years, as the food source arrives at a certain point, they arrive, then move on.
CRAWFORD: Have there been any observations of White Pointers during the winter in this region [Otago]?
LEWIS: Never heard of one.
CRAWFORD: And I think maybe you would have heard.
CRAWFORD: Based on everything that you know, these fish are not here in the winter.
LEWIS: I think they are absolutely following a food source, or part of a migratory pattern.
CRAWFORD: They might be resident during the season where they’re feeding here, and then ...
LEWIS: Like all the sharks we know. We started fishing late November, early December. And then into March/April, they just taper off.
CRAWFORD: Based on your knowledge, and knowledge that you may have received from peers, where else around New Zealand might the White Pointers be engaged in courtship, mating and then later pupping?
LEWIS: Only what I read in the articles and books on it.
CRAWFORD: What have you picked up so far from that?
LEWIS: For pupping, the west coast of the North Island and the harbours up there, the Hokianga and all of those, and even some of those on this side, like Parengarenga Harbour.
CRAWFORD: Pupping - therefore observations of big females. Observations of juveniles?
LEWIS: Yes, reading articles on the biology of the shark and so on. That’s what they say.
CRAWFORD: What do you know about the shark tagging work from Clinton Duffy [NZ Department of Conservation] and Malcom Francis [NZ National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research], specifically with the White Pointers?
LEWIS: Well, not a lot. There’s not a lot out there of Clinton Duffy and the White Sharks. Whether it's all kept in the scientific circles or not, but there’s not a terrible lot that’s of relevance to Joe Blow going out fishing. Scientifically, I presume there’s a huge amount of information available.
CRAWFORD: But it hasn’t necessarily crossed over in a meaningful way to you and your shark fishing community?
LEWIS: No, not really.
CRAWFORD: Do you know anything at all about either the hydroacoustic tags or the GPS satellite tags that they have used on the White Pointers?
LEWIS: No, I don't. You hear about them, you know they tag. Some Mako Sharks we tagged in the far north have gone way further north, somewhere around Fiji I think, and then round those pacific islands. But they always come back, you know. I’ve tagged sharks at Taiaroa Head and two years later, caught the exact same shark in the exact same spot. [laughs] I know if I’ve tagged it, I had to pay $2 to tag it and then I caught the damn thing again, and have to find out about it. It costs me more money.
CRAWFORD: But it also tells you something about the nature of the shark.
LEWIS: Yes. They come back.
CRAWFORD Right. But this idea that there is migratory behaviour, that doesn’t mean that individual animals necessarily have to do the full loop every year.
LEWIS: Oh, no.
CRAWFORD: There could be variations. You go on a big migration this year but, it’s a hell of a swim. You might save up a couple of years, and then go another migration two to three years down the road.
LEWIS: One of our club members takes a shark here that’s caught off the coast of Chile.
CRAWFORD: That’s a big swim.
LEWIS: That’s a big swim, I think it’s the longest recorded swim of a Blue Shark. And it was caught off here.
CRAWFORD: Why do you think that the White Pointers have had these fatal interactions with humans around the Otago Peninsula? Do you think that they were feeding events? Do you think it was mistaken identity? Do you think it was aggression in some way?
LEWIS: Let's say a White Shark only mouths a prey, and it doesn’t like you, it spits you out. My reply to that is a White Shark doesn’t spit out many objects without causing terrible damage. But look, I’m pretty sure that if a shark, just again, it's only anecdotal, that if a White Shark decides that he is going to investigate you, the sheer bulk and size and nature doesn’t mean it’s a gentle thing. Looking at the Shark Week programs and stuff like that, the speed in which they attack their victim, the suddenness of the attack, is not a round and round type thing, it's just a [Clap]!
CRAWFORD: That’s a commitment on the part of the animal for an attack?
LEWIS: Yes. And the features of the shark itself, the teeth, just designed to inflict the most massive injury it can in the shortest possible time to allow the prey to bleed out.
CRAWFORD: Yes. So that’s an understanding that you have as a shark fisherman. That style of hunting, that style of attack, is consistent with the idea that it’s to minimize the time that the shark is actually at risk from some type of damage?
LEWIS: Well, that’s very near relative to the Mako Shark. The Mako Shark, the Great White and the Porbeagle are three big pelagic sharks, those are the big three. But the Mako and the White Shark, their method of attack is very, very similar. I’ve watched the Mako Shark do exactly the same broach, breach and the fin, and the instant bang, shake the head, rip. It just must be the species' trait, that’s how they feed.
CRAWFORD: Any indication that the Makos are feeding on Seals?
CRAWFORD: Strictly fish-eaters?
LEWIS: They are pelagic fish-eaters. They don’t usually come in very close, but that’s not saying ... I haven’t seen them in the shallows, but I’ve actually caught one within the confines of the Otago Harbour.
CRAWFORD: A Mako?
LEWIS: Yes. Very rare, but I know why we caught it in the harbour.
LEWIS: Because of our drift out there brought the fish right in. I had a young fellow with me and an 11-year-old, and we caught this fish and we had quite a gallery following us, you know. The watch house on top of Taiaroa Head, they were watching us, local shipping guys gave us a "Get out of the road, there’s a ship coming out of the harbour." [laughs] It was quite hilarious. And the local press turned up, and good God, you know it was just, it was good fun.
CRAWFORD: Let's go back to the comment you made earlier and repeated at least once: your feeling is that we’re at a time that there are going to be major changes in the abundance of White Pointers?
LEWIS: Absolutely, with the protection on them now.
CRAWFORD: Can you explain your thinking on that?
LEWIS: Well, I think before there was accidental bycatch, longlining and stuff like that. I personally think that White Sharks’ numbers are increasing, only because the more people looking for them.
CRAWFORD: Does that actually change the abundance of the animals?
LEWIS: I think they’ve been there all the time.
CRAWFORD: And it's our observation of them that has increased?
LEWIS: I think the observation of them, and the awareness that these fish are there, but you are also not allowed to touch them. I also believe that as the natural abundance of prey for them increases, the same protection on marine mammals, now the main #1 predator [White Shark] is protected ...
CRAWFORD: If I’m understanding you correctly, you think that both things are happening: there are more people out on the water, more eyes on the water?
CRAWFORD: So the encounter rate is going up, and the observation rate is going up?
LEWIS: And the reports are going up.
CRAWFORD: But also, at the same time, you feel that the abundance of the White Pointers is also going up. And I think you’ve given me two reasons why you would predict the abundance to go up in the future. The protection on a principle food source in terms of the Seals, marine mammals, but also protection on the predator, the White Pointer itself?
LEWIS: Yeah. We used to have shark nets at the Dunedin beach. I have personally sat there for hours and hours and my Uncle Bert making shark nets and mending holes in shark nets. But it was totally ineffectual.
CRAWFORD: Ok, we’ll come back to that. Bear with me on the abundance issue. Based on your observations or anything else, have you seen evidence of an increase in the White Pointer population?
LEWIS: I’ve seen evidence of injuries inflicted on marine mammals by White Sharks, more than we used to.
CRAWFORD: Ok, now that’s different. I'm glad you brought that up. Remember when I asked you to characterize your observations of White Pointers in the wild? An indirect estimate could be the frequency with which you see maimed or wounded or dead prey for White Pointers.
LEWIS: Yes. There are more animals showing signs of pretty horrendous injuries. Now whether the animals died of natural causes, and it's just been ...
CRAWFORD: But the wounds you have been seeing - do you get that kind of wounding, unless a predator has taken a crack at it?
LEWIS: Oh, hell no. I also enjoy a lot of fishing on the rocks in various headlands around fishing species. The amount of injuries you physically see on the Seals has increased 10-fold.
CRAWFORD: Over what time period?
LEWIS: Over the past 15-20 years
CRAWFORD: Ok. That’s a good observation, thank you. Let's get back to the shark nets that Dunedin City Council deployed at St. Clair and St. Kilda in the aftermath of the attacks. What do you know of the decision to deploy those nets in the first place?
LEWIS: Well, the decision to employ the nets was based on the fact that there were fatalities over at the beaches, and the public perception that the nets would protect the beach.
CRAWFORD: What do you know of the actual deployment of nets then?
LEWIS: The nets were randomly set parallel to the beach. They weren’t surface to bottom nets. The ones I personally had contact with were the making of my uncle and his mending of them. Some of them were floated no more than 6, perhaps 8, metres from the bottom, just my basic recollection. Some 200 metres long.
CRAWFORD: Were these bottom-set nets?
LEWIS: Yes, bottom-set, all anchored to the bottom. They weren’t mid-water or anything like that.
CRAWFORD: And you said the height of the net itself ...
LEWIS: 6 to 8 metres from the lead-line to the floatation-line. About 200 metres long.
CRAWFORD: How many of those nets would go out on a given day?
LEWIS: They were anchored and left, and then checked regularly, like weekly.
CRAWFORD: But how many of them would there be out there?
LEWIS: Just recollection, I think there were four along St. Clair, St. Kilda beach, and I think there were one or two off Brighton beach south. They were serviced by a chap, Johnny Malcom, initially. He was a fisherman out of Port Chalmers.
CRAWFORD: Johnny Malcom was the first of a series of operators?
LEWIS: Yes, he was the first. He’s recently retired his boat. I also personally spoke to a couple of divers who went out and checked the nets, and they caught various marine things including Sevengill Sharks, Porbeagle Sharks, Thresher Sharks, a couple of Mako Sharks. But I don’t think there was one successful entanglement of a White Shark that was recorded over there. Don’t quote me as that being gospel, but my recollection is there was not one. There were some holes in the net, which I personally helped my uncle to mend. These holes were horrendous.
CRAWFORD: That was your uncle Bert?
LEWIS: Yes, Bert Lewis.
CRAWFORD: And he was contracted to repair the holes in these DCC shark nets?
LEWIS: Yes. The actual contractor who lifted the nets was responsible for the maintenance of the nets. So, Johnny Malcom being a local fisherman in Port Chalmers, he got the nets mended by my uncles at various stages. I can remember the nets actually being made, I slung nets with one of my uncles, and helped mend the nets with my uncle Bert, and untangled them down at my grandparent's former home at Deborah Bay.
CRAWFORD: Based on your experience, along with your uncles, and the fisherman that was running the nets - was it your understanding that the holes in the nets were actually caused by sharks that were not captured?
LEWIS: Yeah. They just went straight through, they were not of sufficient strength or design to entangle White Sharks.
CRAWFORD: The larger sharks would just chew their way through?
LEWIS: Oh, yeah. Just chew right through. I don’t think they successfully caught White Sharks. Though I did hear that somebody removed an animal from the net, whether it was underwater or not. Removed it from the net before it was actually lifted. But again, that’s just hearsay. Neither confirmed or not, but stories like that get around quickly.
CRAWFORD: But you did have firsthand observations of the big holes in the nets.
LEWIS: Oh, yes.
CRAWFORD: What else, other than a large shark, could have caused such a large hole in a net?
CRAWFORD: How large were the holes that you saw?
LEWIS: Some of the holes would be ... The net would just tear into shreds, the hole could be 10-15 metres long, 4-5 metres high. The fish had gone in and just ripped and thrashed and torn itself out.
CRAWFORD: A very substantial hole.
LEWIS: Yes, major repairs. And of course, a lot of the nets at times, whether they put it down to because of the shallow water, and of course the Southern Ocean, the swells were there, and a lot of the nets would tangle and roll.
CRAWFORD: Ball up. Yes, that's an important consideration as well.
LEWIS: There may have been a wee bit of damage caused by that, but not the tears and rips that were in the net. That was definitely a larger animal that had gone through it.
CRAWFORD: And that was directly from your observation, and the opinion of a seasoned fishermen that were doing the repairs and deployment?
LEWIS: Yeah. It was an income to them.
CRAWFORD: Sure. Well, I mean, Dunedin City Council was paying them regardless of whether the nets were catching sharks.
LEWIS: My personal favourite was that it was only to appease the mind of the general swimming public, who had the perception that the beaches were protected by shark nets. As an actual thing, those nets were totally ineffectual, and were only there to appease the public as such.
CRAWFORD: That it was a perceived risk mitigation, rather than a real mitigation?
LEWIS: Yes, that it was a perceived protection.
CRAWFORD: You had said something earlier about, not just that the nets were bottom-set, but that the height was about 6 metres?
LEWIS: Maybe a little higher. But they definitely weren’t surface to bottom nets.
CRAWFORD: What was the water depth that these nets were fished in?
LEWIS: Oh, you know - no more than 15 or 20 metres.
CRAWFORD: So, it was the bottom half, or bottom third of the water column that the nets were fishing?
LEWIS: And basically, the majority of the shark sightings were surface sightings.
CRAWFORD: But as you know, the possibility of sighting a shark below the surface is much reduced as well. It's no surprise that the majority of sightings were at the surface, because that’s where it's easiest to see them.
CRAWFORD: So, it was an unlucky shark in the first place that would have got caught in those DCC nets?
LEWIS: Absolutely. Unlucky and blind. [laughs]
LEWIS: Because the nets ... they trapped a hell of a lot of marine material. They weren’t just a fine suspended wall. They were caked in slime and seaweed.
CRAWFORD: You're saying these shark nets were clearly visible?
CRAWFORD: That's important as well.
4. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - DIRECT EXPERIENCE
CRAWFORD: Did your grandfather ever talk about the White Pointers responding to the [Otago] fish sheds? How did the fish sheds deal with their refuse?
LEWIS: Throw it out the side.
CRAWFORD: Right there?
LEWIS: Put it on the carts, on the boats, and take the drums and drop it outside the harbour. Depends how rough it was. In the old days, you’d tie-up here on the other side of the lighthouse. They used to drive the trucks all out there, and fire it over the cliff. And I have very early recollections of going down there with my uncles and cousins. I have cousins who are older than my father. Going down there, and watching the trucks pull up, and seeing these trucks dump there, and seeing the shapes of these extremely large sharks. Obviously, they had to be White Sharks - that type of shark. You could just see them, and they were gathered there. They must have known the times that this stuff was being dropped down. So, they were habit forming. And then what’s to stop these sharks swimming 50 to 100 metres on a flood tide, and swimming into the harbour?
CRAWFORD: You have opened an important door here. You have first-hand observations about the fish dumping at Taiaroa Head. You were roughly how old?
LEWIS: 7 or 8. We’d wait down there. Later, we had rifles and we were going to shoot a shark. These were the sillier days.
CRAWFORD: These sillier days, you would have been how old?
LEWIS: 15 or 16.
CRAWFORD: Cliff shooting. Roughly how far away from the water’s surface would you be?
LEWIS: Pretty substantial, I’d say. Between 45 to 50 metres from the water level. But you’re looking during high tide, straight down. Laid out on the rocks, waiting it out. Madness, you know. [laughs]
CRAWFORD: 15-year-old madness. That puts it in a different category.
LEWIS: We were fearless, you know? We were armed, and had a pocket full of ammunition.
CRAWFORD: Is it the case that your firsthand observation of the dumping ... did you have the sense that this had been going on for some time?
LEWIS: Oh, yes. Long before I was there.
CRAWFORD: And this offal would have been from the fish plant at Otakou?
LEWIS: Yeah, and Dunedin. Port Chalmers had one. Actually, I washed all the floors in there. They would just hose it down, and it went straight out into the bay at Port Chalmers.
CRAWFORD: They didn’t dump their offal? They just flushed it directly?
LEWIS: No. They put it in cases and stuff, and when the fishing boats came in and unloaded, they’d load fish waste. There’d be these big old hand carts for taking it.
CRAWFORD: If it was poor weather, they’d dump it in the harbour; and if it was ok, they would take it outside the harbour?
LEWIS: If the fisherman had time to do it. But there’d be cases where the boxes which had the fish in them, also had the frames. And so, they would dump it out, and wash the box, and put the fish in for the next day.
CRAWFORD: With regard to the Otakou and Dunedin fish facilities, they were the ones who trucked fish waste out to Taiaroa Head?
LEWIS: On the truck, yeah. The offal chute was there on the cliff.
CRAWFORD: And you had the sense that White Pointers responded directly to the dumping?
LEWIS: Oh, yes. You could actually see them coming from points, come round the coast, they were coming in from the seaboard side. Whether the tidal flush was taking the scent of the stuff out, and creating a burley trail - which it undoubtedly did. It might have been low tide when they did one dump, but as the tide came in and the surges washed this stuff around ...
CRAWFORDL Hydrodynamically, that is a very active region.
LEWIS: Oh, very much so. When the tidal flow comes up, with this offal, which is dumped at Taiaroa Head down that chute, the tide would come in. The flow is automatically coming into the harbour. So, you know, you’ve got this supply of food.
CRAWFORD: This burley trail ... what’s the distance to the harbour mouth?
LEWIS: The offal chute which was there - probably 75-100 metres to the harbour.
CRAWFORD: That’s nothing.
LEWIS: You go there this day and age, and the tidal flows ...
CRAWFORD: Even the intermediate eddies are going to carry that in.
LEWIS: Absolutely. It's the most wonderful burley trail you’re going to get.
CRAWFORD: If I drive over now, is there an access or even a path that takes you over - where you can see where the offal dump was?
LEWIS: Yes. You go down to the Albatross colony, and you just walk to the seaboard side, and there’s a rock wall that goes down.
CRAWFORD: Natural rock wall?
LEWIS: No, no. Built. Go down and stand on the edge of the cliff, there’s a fence there. The offal chute used to go straight out over, probably two metres long. No washing or hosing it out. God knows what the stench was.
CRAWFORD: It must have been terrible.
LEWIS: And the bird life, you would’ve loved it.
CRAWFORD: But there was substantial enough quantity that there was enough offal actually making it to the surface of the water?
LEWIS: Oh, absolutely.
CRAWFORD: And this would have attracted all sorts of birds, as well. And you saw them dumping?
CRAWFORD: Roughly how many boxes of offal might go over - on average?
LEWIS: Well, this is my earliest recollection. You wouldn’t call it a big truck these days, but a substantial flat utility truck.
CRAWFORD: Are we talking 10-20 boxes?
LEWIS: Probably more. You’re talking tons of stuff.
CRAWFORD: When you watched - was it consistent, was it rare, or common to see these White Pointers at the offal dump?
LEWIS: We’d go there every day, but the times we were there, and the time it took these animals to turn up ... And I’m not talking hordes of them, but at least three or four very large fish, which to my mind can only be White Sharks. And what you know now, given the size and dimensions, there could have been smaller blue sharks or something, but these particular large animals - they were Whites.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever get the indication that the animals may actually been there prior to the dump?
LEWIS: They turned up pretty quickly.
CRAWFORD: Do you have any reason to believe they would have been there prior to the actual dumping?
LEWIS: Well, you couldn’t say. There was a rather strange occurrence. That these fish did not take long to turn up.
CRAWFORD: Right. I think that’s where we are going to focus our effort. You’d really have to have some kind of striking observation to say that these animals were there prior. I mean you’d have to be there prior to the dump yourself, and see that they were there. Waiting in anticipation or otherwise. You said that it didn’t take them very long to come in, and that you could see some of them come in. Roughly what kind of distance away would you be able to see them come in?
LEWIS: You could spot the fish 100 metres away - at least as far away as you were looking down.
CRAWFORD: And you saw them coming in casually?
LEWIS: Yes. But they were making a b-line. They weren’t just swimming around.
CRAWFORD: They were coming in to that location?
CRAWFORD: Give me a time frame, this response would have been within 1 minute, 5, 20?
LEWIS: 5 to 10 minutes.
CRAWFORD: Would have been both upstream and downstream?
LEWIS: Yes. Because the tidal surge would be whipping in and out. Certainly the tide is flowing in, the water goes around it. But the tide that’s ebbing, there’s a bit of an eddy in there.
CRAWFORD: You also said that it was possible, I’m not sure if this is your thinking or your parents' or grandparents' generation, that there may have been something about the Taiaroa Head that potentially could have attracted them as well?
LEWIS: Yeah. A lot of the stuff that went over the cliff ... If it was a good stiff northerly, a lot of the rubbish was just blowing against the rocks and stuff, and then it would rely on the high water and the wave action to disperse that stuff in to the water. But the placement of the chute, nothing seemed to go straight out and plunge into the water, it was always onto the rock margins. So, I presume the ocean and tide, the optimum tide would probably have been a full tide with a good surge to take it out. When the tide drops out, you can actually see the shapes of the rocks and everything on the bottom. Given the water clarity, location, you could certainly see these fish.
CRAWFORD: Did you ever think there was a relationship between tidal conditions and the response of the sharks?
LEWIS: No, we were just down there, "Here goes all this rubbish going out," "Oh hell, here goes a big fish," you know? I remember my uncle saying, "Here’s a big one coming there." Then you carry on.
CRAWFORD: When fish cleaning was happening inside the harbour, were there preferred places that were more convenient than others? Or did it matter, did they just drop anchor anywhere and clean?
LEWIS: Just drop and anchor off Pilots Beach, up around Wellers Rock, and right up the harbour.
CRAWFORD: Any place convenient?
LEWIS: Any place convenient, out of the way, just depending on what the time pressure was. You know, no fisherman likes to dump fish over the side, but certainly I saw some boats ... A chap, he tied up to the pilot wharf at Aramoana, and my father, being a worker at the National Mortgage Fish Agency and him fishing, I remember he says to my father and myself, "Have a look on the other side of the boat." So, we stepped off the wharf onto the boat, and they had a deckload of fish, and they were shovelling this offal over the side. And behind the boat was this big shark, you could define the shark. It was just lying there, consuming huge amounts of frames coming over the side. No physical activity at all because of the deepwater flow. So, it was just laying in the deep water beside the boat. My recollection was "Holy hell, that’s a big fish!" That was at Aramoana on the pilot wharf. The boat was just sitting there, tied up.
CRAWFORD: If you had to guess, how big would that shark have been?
LEWIS: Oh, 6 metres. But all the sharks in those days were either 12, 14, 16, or 18 feet long. [laughs] [But we also used the alphabetical scale, you know, Big One, BB Bloody Big One, and so on, till you got right down to BBB Big One. [laughs]. But that’s just good old Kiwi.
CRAWFORD: Any instances when you personally encountered a White Pointer in the harbour?
LEWIS: When I built that new boat when I was 16, we caught a lot of Barracouta. We went out, sat there, tied the boat up, we didn’t have access to the outboard then, because we weren’t allowed to go and get it. Well, we decided to go after one of these White Sharks. We had two drums and 25-30 metres of rope, tied to a beacon. This was down by Pulling Point, Hamilton Bay. And my grandmother lived there, so we spent a lot of time down there. On the outgoing tide, we set the drums, and I remember the 12-gallon drum going 'blup blup’ and then disappeared. The rope tightened, then the 45-gallon drum, which is a large bin you know, it also half submerged. The rope we had tied to the beacon - it went off like a rifle shot, and to this day and age we never saw those drums turn up. There were no ships going past, so we hadn’t snagged a ship or anything. Whatever it was - was very, very large.
CRAWFORD: When you say the 45-gallon drum took off, did it ever get completely submerged?
LEWIS: Yeah. And we never saw it again.
CRAWFORD: That's a big drum. I think we can work out the math on this one. But you never saw the fish that pulled it down?
LEWIS: Never saw the fish, never saw either drum.
CRAWFORD: What depth would that have been in?
LEWIS: Probably 15 m, 20 m. Only just off the channel.
CRAWFORD: So, not that deep really?
LEWIS: No. That was the last time I specifically went with big gear to tackle a big shark.
CRAWFORD: With you on the water, in your dinghy?
LEWIS: In the dinghy, tied up to a beacon.
CRAWFORD: How long was your dinghy again?
LEWIS: 18 foot.
CRAWFORD: How far away were you, when this happened? Less than 50 feet?
LEWIS: No. The drum would probably have been 50 feet max, out the back of the boat. But we weren’t attached to the drum. The drum was attached to the beacon.
CRAWFORD: What happened to the beacon?
LEWIS: The line snapped between the drum and the beacon. It may not have been nylon in those days. It was probably hemp or something.
CRAWFORD: Still a fairly sturdy line?
LEWIS: Oh hell, yes. Not much bigger than what they used as whaling lines. But it just sprang off like a rifle shot. And the drum just didn’t go plop. The speed, it towed the drum until it was submerged.
CRAWFORD: Never to be seen again.
LEWIS: We didn’t really go looking, though.
CRAWFORD: And you reckoned the barrel was still intact?
LEWIS: Well, we presumed it was. Whether it had ... you know a weak point? it could have filled up, or punctured or something,
CRAWFORD: It could have, but it was floating the last time you saw it. And that force would have been constantly affecting the animal that had it.
LEWIS: And it never fell off, never came untangled in the line.
CRAWFORD: Other people in the harbour, they never saw or reported, you never heard of anybody reporting these drums?
LEWIS: No. I was just saying to my mate, "Oh, that was big." [laughs] For a while we sat there, and I said, "If it pops up, we’ll go after it." But in our visual line of sight, it never popped up.
CRAWFORD: Have you personally seen live White Pointers in Otago Harbour?
CRAWFORD: Roughly, over all of your years, how many White Pointers do you figure you’ve seen in the harbour?
LEWIS: Off the top of my head? Probably no more than 10. Maybe a few less. That’s actual live fish.
CRAWFORD: In the wild, in the harbour?
LEWIS: That would be in a line from Taiaroa Head to Aramoana, in the harbour.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Let’s say, roughly 10 fish. Over that time, give me some sense of how many you’ve seen in the harbour - over the decades. Was it consistent, was it increasing, was it decreasing?
LEWIS: I would say it has not increased and not decreased. But it depends on the time you spend on the harbour, and the observations you make.
CRAWFORD: Keeping that in mind, was there any seasonality to those observations?
LEWIS: Yeah, again very seasonal. The summer months, when there’s a huge abundance of feed, and certain influxes of fish into the harbour - the chances of seeing one were greatly increased. The majority of sharks I’ve seen have been in the lower harbour, which is Port Chalmers to Taiaroa Head. I’ve never seen one south of the Midway Islands. But most of my time was in the lower harbour, not the top harbour. I’ve never seen any in the top harbour. I don’t believe the top harbour is conducive to having Great White Sharks swimming around it.
CRAWFORD: Why don’t you think so?
LEWIS: Perhaps water quality in those days. And the shallowness of the channel. Most of the top harbour, if you look at it, is very tidal, very shallow at times. But the lower harbour has good natural deep water, a wide channel, deep basins.
CRAWFORD: Give me some sense of the depth of the top harbour.
LEWIS: I’d say the majority of it is less than 6 metres of water. Then you have the channel, the Victoria Channel, which has been artificially deepened by dredging. It’s 9-11 metres maximum up through there.
CRAWFORD: And the lower harbour?
LEWIS: Lower harbour is consistently, naturally 12 to 16 metres deep.
CRAWFORD: Was dredging something that happened prior to your day?
LEWIS: Dredging’s been going on in this harbour since 1880, to various scales. The lay of the harbour, there’s more sediment that goes in, the more it comes out. So continually dredging, even to this day.
CRAWFORD: You spent most of your time in the lower harbour anyways?
CRAWFORD: Ok. So, your White Pointer observations in the lower harbour, they were still rare events - on the order of one or two fish per decade?
CRAWFORD: You also said it was seasonal?
LEWIS: Yeah. If you get a huge number of Barracouta coming by, Red Cod, Warehou. These come in huge numbers. Like anything else, I suppose it’s the predatory nature of the sharks.
CRAWFORD: With regard to the Encounter Levels we discussed, of the 10 animals that you’ve seen in the outer harbour. What was the distribution across levels? How many Level 1 observations, versus Level 2 swim-bys, or interest visits?
LEWIS: I’d say about a 50-50 split between Level 1 and 2. The big fin, tail, you try to get closer, it goes down and disappears. But you know, by seeing the fin and the tail, we knew what it was.
CRAWFORD: Those would be Level 1s?
LEWIS: Yeah. I have one very active fish, tangled in a setnet.
CRAWFORD: Whereabouts was that?
LEWIS: Lower Portobello Bay. It was extremely lively. This fish would have been a good 12-14 feet long. Very much alive.
CRAWFORD: Was this animal wrapped up in one of your setnets?
LEWIS: Yes! I had been setting there for Warehou, because there was a very still tidal flow, no snags, just a big deep natural hole in the bay here. And the shark was very much alive, with its nose into the net. It wasn’t rolled up or tangled, you know? And I’m in an 18-foot boat, by myself!
CRAWFORD: With a 12-foot White Pointer.
LEWIS: [laughs] Yes! And very much alive. I can remember it rolling around in the space and crashing. And it wasn’t going to get away by me, no matter what. So, a tug of war ensued, and the fish rolled up, and swam away quiet by itself.
CRAWFORD: It really didn’t give you any issue?
LEWIS: Oh, yes it did. [laughs]
CRAWFORD: Well it gave you a bit of a hard time in the boat?
LEWIS: Just heart palpitations! [laughs]
CRAWFORD: But it didn’t transfer its heightened level of activity to focus aggressively on you or your boat?
LEWIS: No, no, it didn’t. It just floated around in the water while it worked my net. It was only wrapped around the head. It was only nose deep in the net, to grab the fish.
CRAWFORD: It was not gilled in your net?
LEWIS: No, no. Only a 4-inch mesh net. And you’ve got something that’s a meter across the head right there. I managed to secure the net to the bow of the boat and it crashed around and bashed around. It was probably only for about three or four minutes. But it seemed a lifetime. And then it rolled up, and swam away.
CRAWFORD: That’s one of your ten observations in the harbour. And you said that roughly half of those would have been Level 1 - observation only. Anything else by way of circling behaviour?
LEWIS: No, nothing aggressive like that. Other than say the incident I described where we had put the baited drums down. The rest of it was, “Oh hell, big fish there,” or “Oh it’s a shark” - you know? Some sharks are inquisitive, come around your boat. But if so, that was just a swim-by, or something like that.
CRAWFORD: Let’s go offshore now. Have you seen White Pointers offshore in the Otago region?
CRAWFORD: Same process as before - in your 5+ decades of experience, approximately how many White Pointers would you have seen in those offshore waters?
LEWIS: Probably between 8 and 10.
CRAWFORD: Approximately the same as in the lower harbour?
LEWIS: I think the chances to see them in the harbour are greater, because the waters are confined. If the fish is there, you have more of a chance to see it. But if you’re out in the sea, it’s a needle-in-the-haystack scenario.
CRAWFORD: The harbour is also more sheltered, in the sense that the water is generally calmer as well. If a shark was below the surface, your chances of seeing into the water would be greater. Even seeing a fin - you’re more likely to see it in the harbour. But as you’ve described, most of your early time was spent in the harbour, but as you got older …
LEWIS: As I got older, I went offshore chasing the sports fish.
CRAWFORD: You spent significantly more time offshore than in the harbour?
LEWIS: The amount of time I spent offshore - not terribly far offshore, 16 km radius was as far as we needed to go - I probably have put down tons and tons of burley to get sharks.
CRAWFORD: Let’s put a placeholder on that. In terms of before and after burleying for sport fishing in offshore waters, what was your distribution of White Pointer observations. Would have seen half of the animals prior to your sport fishing with burley?
LEWIS: About 50-50 would be a fair estimate.
CRAWFORD: My reason for asking is that obviously, when you are big-game fishing, if you are burleying to attract the fish, then you’re changing the odds of encounter with a White Pointer. For the fish that you saw prior to actually targeting sharks, what were the circumstances of those observations?
LEWIS: Just large fish, finning in the water, swimming through.
CRAWFORD: Level 1 observation only, or perhaps a Level 2 swim-by?
LEWIS: Some of both. Two of those observations were complete breaches out of the water. One down here at Taieri Mouth, and another one up here at Shag Point during a fishery event, lots of boats fishing. Obviously, a fish would come up a line, and float at the surface and the shark flicked out of the water. Huge splash, you know?
CRAWFORD: The nature of that breach - was the shark on a line?
LEWIS: No, no, no. It was same as the first breach. It was just the shark out of the water.
CRAWFORD: Were you line fishing at the time?
LEWIS: Yeah. But not for sharks.
CRAWFORD: You were just out there at the time?
LEWIS: Yeah. I know up at Taieri Mouth, it was what we call a Hāpuku or a Groper. It had broken off of someone’s line, and they float. Swim bladder up, and the hook pops out - they just lay on the surface, and flop away. Before they could get to it, the two boats were pretty close together, and bloke up the road says, “I’ve just lost my Groper, its floating out in the bay.” And all of a sudden there was this great splash. This shark, obviously a White Shark, burst out of the water and made a big splash and the fish was gone.
CRAWFORD: It took the Groper?
LEWIS: Yeah, he had a feed.
CRAWFORD: A partial breach?
LEWIS: A lot of the fish was out of the water, that was real. Wasn’t terribly high - like a Dolphin. But it was just a big arch, and then boom.
CRAWFORD: But that shark came up, with speed, to the surface?
LEWIS: Yeah, and grabbed that fish.
CRAWFORD: And the Groper was still alive, still flapping? You reckon that likely triggered the hit?
LEWIS: Not sure. This Groper floated up, and the shark decided it was going to have it.
CRAWFORD: Ok. Tell me about the other breach.
LEWIS: The other one was up here at the Dangury fishery. Again, it was close proximity to the other boats, and that was just a free breach. Seen one up top, just come out with a big splash, you know?
CRAWFORD: Those breaches were both prior to you actively shark fishing. Your other observations would have been Level 1 observation or Level 2 swim-bys?
LEWIS: Yeah, mostly swim-bys.
CRAWFORD: Have you ever seen, or heard from others about seeing, multiple White Pointers travelling together?
LEWIS: This bay here, we’ve seen three together moving north, near what we call Wickliffe Bay. One extremely large animal, and two smaller but still large animals, probably 14 and 16 feet. At the same time, three of them. The big one made the other big ones look smaller. It was a huge fish.
CRAWFORD: You had the distinct impression that they were travelling north?
LEWIS: Travelling north. Dead calm day, big fins up. And I know a Basking Shark when I see them. These were definitely White Sharks.
CRAWFORD: What would a seasoned veteran notice - right off the bat - as a difference between a Basking Shark and a White Pointer?
LEWIS: Oh, the dorsal fin and the tail.
CRAWFORD: Tell me about the dorsal fin first.
LEWIS: The dorsal fin is a true 'V'. It's not like you see on the cartoons, with the big circle fin you know. The Basking Sharks are stumpy, rounded fins; coloration brown, blotchy brown. When you get a grey color, dark color, we knew what. We could see the outline of the fish from the surface, the swells went up, you get to see the fish in the water, and it's quite impressive.
CRAWFORD: Do you have any other indication, you from direct observation or anyone else that you know of, about multiple animals behaving as a group in one way or another?
LEWIS: Well, let's just say, the ones at the Taiaroa Head offal dump - I think that’s an unnatural thing. But these in Wickliffe Bay were just free swimming, and not deviating.
CRAWFORD: They were holding formation together?
LEWIS: Yes. No more than 20-30 metres apart.
CRAWFORD: Any other observations that you’ve heard of with regard to White Pointers moving together? Multiple animals?
LEWIS: Not multiple, no. But I’d say, where the people congregate for the sports fishing, the more likelihood of getting reports of the fish. And what’s being observed is where the people are fishing.
CRAWFORD: Right. But that one observation about those three White Pointers travelling together, you were not burleying at the time?
LEWIS: Nope. We were going one way, they were going the other. They were headed straight out. And it was observed by two or three other boats, you know? We were all heading down the same area, and we all just looked at it.
5. WHITE POINTER ENCOUNTERS - EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS
CRAWFORD: In terms of Level 4 White Pointer encounters with humans, around the Otago Peninsula, what do you know about the attacks?
LEWIS: In terms of fatal attacks, they’ve all been in my lifespan.
LEWIS: St. Clair beach, beaches at Dunedin.
CRAWFORD: Roughly when?
LEWIS: Yes, surf life savers. 63/64/65. I can remember that avidly, and the one at Aramoana, actual dates I’m not quite sure but it would have been 68 to 71 - somewhere around that period.
CRAWFORD: St. Clair, St. Kilda, what do you know about the circumstances?
LEWIS: They were fatal. And one was swimming on a line, an old reel line for surf life saving. And he was taken off that. The other fella, I think he was free swimming, just doing something and he disappeared.
CRAWFORD: Were the sharks seen in either of those cases?
CRAWFORD: Do we know that they were White Pointers?
LEWIS: Yes, they were identified as White Sharks, big splash and goodness knows like that. Aramoana was a diver, and he was swimming not too far down the breakwater, and he was taken. He was diving, laying in the kelp, I think he had fish on the line.
LEWIS: Yes. You know, snorkeling.
CRAWFORD: What do you know about any non-fatal incidences in the region?
LEWIS: Surf-board attacks. You know, surfers being tipped off their boards, the boards being mauled.
LEWIS: St. Clair beach, mainly. Further south, I’m not sure, it was mentioned once around the Catlins, wherever it was down the way. And Moeraki, but I think that was more or less identified as a Sevengill Shark.
CRAWFORD: What about boaties? People who are simply out there, maybe out in a dinghy or whatever. Anything more than Level 3 kind of circling behaviour? Any type of interactions that you’ve heard of?
LEWIS: Heard stories, but it's very hard to confirm. “So and so had a big shark on,” but often people are saying "I’ve caught a massive shark." You go over there, and it's just a 1.5-2 metre Blue Shark, you know?
Copyright © 2017 Warren Lewis and Steve Crawford