Sunday, 5 April 2015

Commercial Fishing on the Eastern Coasts of Coromandel

Hauling the nets early 1980's - slide photo JM Stewart collection

Captain James Cook back in 1869 aboard HMS Endeavour is said to have named the stretch of Coast Bay of Plenty ( Maori Name  Te Moana a Toi) This was as he headed across the Bay and up the coast of  what Is now known as the Coromandel Peninsula,  he noted abundant food supplies in the villages. On 1st November 1869 Cook recorded : - 

"At 8 saw between 40 and 50 Canoes in shore. Several of them came off to the Ship, and being about us some time they ventur’d alongside and sold us some Lobsters, Muscels, and 2 Conger Eales." ( Wharton Ed, 1893 )
Captain Cook on arrival at what he later named Mercury Bay ( Maori name Whitianga-o-Kupe) , set about fishing and found that Maori were adept fishers and traders at this place. Cook recorded on the 6th November:-
 "The Natives brought to the Ship, and sold to our People, small Cockles, Clams, and Mussels, enough for all hands."  ( Wharton Ed,1893 )
Cook was to record  the attempts by the marines to trawl with the long boat, to haul the Sean and  copious supplies of fish and shellfish seen at Mercury Bay. This was not new knowledge for Maori had long found the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel Coasts plentiful with fish and shellfish. Archaeological diggings in the last forty decades on Middens scattered along the coastline have confirmed this.
Coastline early 1980's JM Stewart slide photo collection
Fishing through the years of European Settlement years on the Eastern Seaboard Coast of the Coromandel  continued to add to the staple diet of gum diggers, timber fellers and gold miners. Strikers during the 1912 Strike at Waihi supplemented household food supplies by fishing. During the Depression years fishing helped food supplies. In 1929 the Auckland Star reporting on the Relief workers being taken to the new Forestry Trial Planting project near Whangamata wrote:-
" There is also a fine ocean beach and the place is a noted fishing centre" ( Auckland Star 04/11/1929)

Commercial Fishing off Whangamata 1970's - JM Stewart photo collection

 Commercial Fishing

Back in 1871 New Zealanders were already discussing commercial fishing. The Nelson Evening Mail reporting on a Colonial Industries Report wrote :-
" With regard to the establishment of coast fisheries, the committee recommend that these should be encouraged by means of a bonus, for a term of seven years, on cured fish, dry and pickled, exported for consumption abroad, and that suitable sites should be reserved for the purposes of fisheries and for curing stations. They made special mention also of the case of Messrs. M'Leod and Perston, of Whangarei, and recommend that they should have the exclusive right of a block of 500 acres, thirteen miles north of Whangarei, so long as they use it as a fishing and drying station. They further recommend that all articles used in coast fisheries should be admitted free of duty, and that all boats and vessels engaged in the fishing trade be relieved from harbor, wharf, pilotage, and light dues." ( Nelson Evening Mail 30/10/1871 p4)
No major fish processing plants developed on the Eastern Seaboard of Coromandel. The advent of  roading  on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula,  after long years of lobbying , along with a railway to Waihi connecting with Thames Railway in 1905  and continuing on to Tauranga in 1828, led to regular calls by steamers fading away. By the late 1920’s  there was a small community of fishermen living near Whangamata Harbour, forming the nucleus of this small settlement.  
From newspaper accounts Seine fishing was a hot topic in May 1937 with line and recreational fishermen attending a meeting of  the Waihi Fishing Association to discuss the detriments of this method of fishing to food stocks. Not many weeks after the Evening Post reported that the Fisheries Investigation Committee ( Messrs. J. Thorn, M.P, (chairman), M. Y. Young, assistant chief inspector of fisheries, and E. Seed, of the Department of Industries and Commerce) :-
" will be at Thames from June 24 to June 30, but during that period it also intends to investigate the position at Mercury Bay and Whangamata. From Thames the committee will proceed to Auckland. The Wellington sittings will be held last. The North Island investigation is also expected to take three months." ( Evening Post 11/06/1937)
Fishing late  1970's - slide photo JM Stewart collection
Seems this was not the first time as back in 1920 fishermen were expressing concerns over trawling to an Inquiry regarding Trawling Limits and Fishing Industry (  Mr L. P. Ayson. Chief Inspector of Fisheries, and Mr A. Petersenson. Chief Inspector of Fisheries)
" Mr Alex Leslie said he had been fishing here nine or ten years ago and followed it up till 1914. He knew the Coast from Town Point to Whangamata as well as anyone. Off Whangamata he had got as many as 60 dozen. The average used to be from 25 to 30 dozen. Since he had been back from the war he had been out a fair number of times trying the old grounds but had no luck at all. He was now living retired and was only using his boat for pleasure. All his big catches used to be between Bowentown and Whangamata. When he was fishing before he noticed that the fish always took off about August. The weather conditions affected the fishing. Since he returned he found a big decrease in the fishing. " ( Bay of Plenty Times 10/08/1920,p3)

Dealing with a shark original slide photo  JM Stewart late 1970s
With small fishing boats ( mainly wooden hulled vessels) ,various methods of fishing were carried out over the years but largely inshore net fishing and long lining. A wharf now in Whangamata Harbour by the 1970's provided a focal point for loading, unloading, baiting up and to catch up with news on the latest catch and fishing techniques. Whitianga fish floor was also a destination for catch.  1963 saw commercial fishing boats licensing halted. However requirements on fish sizes and fishing methods continued.  My own memories are of the MacArthur and Jamieson families in the later 1960's who were living in the then small settlement of Whangamata.  Some of the vessels came out of the early days of the 1900s such as the MV Tawa - well known charter and fishing boat, the top sail cutter Clio, built in 1894 which saw a number of Ports and settlements including Tairua during the early 1940's and Whangamata from late 70's until mid-90's years.
Clio when first based at Whangamata - photo JM Stewart late 1970's
 An attempt at a  mussel farm in the Whangamata Harbour  in the early 1970’s failed when washed away in a storm. Today in 2015 OPC at Whitianga is the major mussel processing factory on the Coromandel Peninsula and " Coromandel Green- lipped mussels " grown and harvested from Coromandel Harbour are a famous addition to restaurant menus on the Peninsula  ( Recommend Mussel Chowder - yum!)
A Quota management system was introduced by 1986 with the Government implementation of the Fisheries Act, helping to regulate boats and catch. Main catches on the Eastern Coast - all to quota were schnapper, terakihi, gurnard and hapuka.
Wooden hulled vessels gave way to steel hulled and Whangamata as a base for a number of commercial fishermen gave way  to recreation fishing in the main, with but a few now in 2015 fishing commercially out of Whangamata.
Commercial Fishing late 1970's - Photo JM Stewart Collection
A scallop processing factory at Whangamata in 2015 provides employment for local residents and a business supplying the mainly domestic market with this shellfish. A what was called  "black skirt disease" in 1999 threatened the scallop industry for a time and staff and boat layoffs.  Annually a popular Scallop Festival is held at Whitianga for those who enjoy gastronomical delights and good music.

Reference Source:

This blog is for my Dad who loved the sea and fishing.
  • "Clio” – Stewart Family papers ( Jack and Helen ), photos, letters from builder’s family and others too, newspaper articles, etc.
  • Williamson, Beverley M, Whangamata – 100 Years of Change, Goldfields Print Ltd, Paeroa, 1988 p 53, 56 fishing settlement at Whangamata
  • Captain Cook's Journal during his first voyage round the world made in H.M. Bark “Endeavour” 1768-71 / with notes and introduction edited by Captain W. J. L. Wharton [1893]
  • New Zealand Legislation accessed 09/06/2009 relates to registration of commercial boats
    Legislation: Acts Ship Registration Act 1992Public Act 1992 No 89 Date of assent 1 October 1992 search=ts_act_Parole_resel&p=1Z
  • REPORT ON COLONIAL INDUSTRIES. Nelson Evening Mail,, 30 October 1871, Page 4
  • TE TEKO WRECKED OFF SLIPPER ISLAND. Bay of Plenty Times, 10 August 1920, Page 3
  • WORK AT WHANGAMATA. Auckland Star, 4 November 1929, Page 8
  • FISHERIES INQUIRY Evening Post, 11 June 1937, Page 15
  • SEINE NET FISHING New Zealand Herald, 25 May 1937, Page 5
Interested in finding   out more about Captain Cook. Coromandel Heritage Trust The Treasury at Thames has a great collection - make contact for research assistance.