Saturday, August 18, 2007

Last-Ditch Effort to Find Bluefin

TAG scientist and Stanford Ph.D. student George Shillinger sent this update from New Zealand...

Great news --- We are heading out tonight!

I am with Pete Saul, a seasoned saltwater fisherman from Tutukaka, North Island. Pete (along with John Holdsworth) are co-founders of Blue Water Marine Research, a fisheries consulting company specializing in pelagic and sportsfisheries. Pete is also a writer and submits columns to Blue Water Magazine in Australia, Trade A Boat in New Zealand, and other West Pacific marine pubs.

Quite serenditiously, we encountered a New Zealand media personality, Graeme Sinclair, while we were waiting for word on weather at our hotel. Graeme was here to do a story on Greymouth and big bluefin. Graeme's colleagues spotted my Tag-A-Giant jacket and immediately wanted to know more. As it turns out, Pete has also known Graeme for years -- and, in short order, Graeme kindly offered to let us both join him on a bluefin fishing trip tonight off Westport.

This is an outstanding opportunity (no pun intended) but, fortuitiously, Larry Johnson, skipper of our partner vessel, Cerveza, has also kindly invited one of us to join his crew and fishers for a run to Westport tonight. Pete and I have decided to divide and conquer. I will depart with Larry at 10:00 p.m. and Pete is en route to Westport right now to meet with Graeme and his crew on the vessel Jewel.

So, our patience in Greymouth may finally be rewarded with a chance to tag some huge tuna tonight and tomorow. Large groups of huge tuna have been spotted around hoki trawlers off Westport , about 70 miles north by sea, and all of the local vessels are already there or en route soon. The reports are excellent -- up to 30 fish have been spotted around a single trawler.
The hoki trawlers come from all over the world. Many of the boats are from Eastern Europe (especially Russia), but there are also several boats from Korea and Japan. New Zealand also has a number of trawlers.

The ships basically circumnavigate a trench within which the hoki have concentrated to spawn. The boats move in circles around the clock, setting and hauling in their trawl nets. Hoki is a mid-water trawling fishery -- the nets are not dragged along the bottom and don't tear up the sea floor. The sportfishing vessels follow the trawlers and target the giant bluefin that are chasing the dead and dying hoki spilling from the trawl nets.

The hoki boats operate on a quota system. A hoki quota is allocated to the industry players and distributed across all fishing vessels. Once the quota has been filled, the hoki fishing ceases. The hoki vessels attract groups of the large tuna, and without hoki trawlers around, it becomes very difficult to find bluefin. Thus, there is an interesting relationship between commerical and sportfishing vessels here that may occur in few other places on the planet.

Here in Greymouth, we are very excited and are packing gear. It is raining like crazy right now, but the winds have died down. The weather looks good for next few days and we hope to make the most of it!

Wish us luck, tight lines, and tagging opportunities.

No comments: