Art. LXVII.—Fish and their Seasons.
[Read before the Otago Institute, August 1st, 1876.]
The following table had its origin in a conversational discussion which took place at one of the meetings of the Institute during last session. It was mentioned, among other things, that there was a good deal of doubt about the times when the ordinary food fishes were actually in season, and a few particulars as to the length of time they were to be caught might be useful. In the hope that the following may go some way towards supplying what was wanted, I venture to bring it before the members of the Institute. I may state that the mode adopted in gathering the information was by noting down the various sorts of fish exposed for sale in the windows of the fishmongers' shops, as well as by occasional enquiries elsewhere. The work was begun on the 1st August, 1875, and was continued daily till the 31st July of the present year. During a short absence from Dunedin the notes were taken by a friend, who adopted the same method.
|Name of Fish.||Number of Days in Market.|
|Native or Common.||Scientific,||Aug.||Sept.||Oct.||Nov.||Dec.||Jan.||Feb.||Mar.||April||May.||June||July.||Totl.|
|Hapuka, Groper||Oligorus gigas||none||2||13||13||12||11||20||17||8||18||11||18||143|
|Kahawai, Salmon||Arripis salar||none||none||none||none||none||2||none||none||none||1||none||none||3|
|Tamure, Snapper||Pagrus unicolor||none||none||none||none||none||none||1||none||none||none||none||none||1|
|Kohikohi, Trumpeter||Latris hecateia||1||2||none||none||none||1||none||none||none||5||none||none||9|
|Hiku, Frostfish||Lepidopus caudatus||2||none||none||none||none||none||none||none||none||none||none||none||2|
|Mangu, Barracoota||Thyrsites atun||none||1||1||18||15||20||11||11||3||9||13||4||106|
|Arara, Trevally||Chilodactylus macropterus||none||2||none||2||4||4||none||7||15||22||16||17||89|
|Haku, Kingfish||Seriola lalandii||none||none||none||none||none||1||none||none||none||none||none||none||1|
|Pakirikiri, Blue Cod||Percis colias||5||6||3||4||9||2||4||5||3||11||10||17||78|
|Red Cod||Lotella bacchus||9||6||3||14||10||7||1||8||9||19||11||14||111|
|Marare, Butterfish||Labricthys bothryocosmus||1||none||1||2||4||2||none||5||6||9||2||2||34|
|Aua, Mullet, Herring||Agonostoma forsteri||2||12||none||3||5||10||17||20||22||24||22||22||159|
|Ihi, Garfish||Hemirhamphus intermedius||none||none||3||4||5||none||none||5||1||none||1||none||19|
|Sandling or Eel||Gonorhynchus greyi||none||none||none||none||none||none||1||7||12||5||5||4||34|
|Patiki, Flounder||Rhombosolea monopus||7||12||5||11||12||17||19||20||21||26||25||26||201|
|Days on which there were no fish||11||5||8||3||1||1||3||32|
|Prevailing weather||stormy, dull, cold.||variable.||Stormy, wet, cold.||fine, stormy, at close||wet.||fine||fine||fine. dull & stormy at close||variable.||fine.||fine, wet at close.||cold, frosty, dull.|
A few other fishes occasionally come to market, such as the Gurnard (Trigla kumu), a pretty fish with fine long fins like wings, but it is seldom eaten, though of good quality, being very bony. The Hardhead (Kathetostoma monopterygium) is also seen occasionally, but its forbidding appearance is sufficient to prevent its being eaten, though wholesome enough. There is another fish, termed the Agriopus leucopoccilus (Leather Jacket, or Pig-fish), quite different from the fish of that name in the North, which is very palatable, with firm white flesh; but it is very seldom eaten, though common enough in Otago Harbour.
As supplementary to the table, I give the following particulars of the fishes there treated of:—
Groper was in the market 143 days, and might almost be said to be in season the whole year through. This fish is caught off the rocky points of the coast, in five fathoms and upwards of water, just outside the kelp.
Kahawhai is a rare visitor here, and only to be caught in the summer, a few being brought to market every year.
Snapper is also rare, and a summer visitor.
Trumpeter is never plentiful; a few are brought to market at irregular intervals.
Moki has been abundant nearly all the year. It is noteworthy that this fish used to be very seldom seen in our market, but of late the superior knowledge of the fishermen has been rewarded by a plentiful supply of this excellent fish.
Frostfish only find their way to market in winter time, and are very irregular in supply.
Barracoota have not been in such excessive supply during the past as in former years. This is owing, I think, in great measure to the reduced demand, not from any falling off in the amount of fish, which is as abundant as ever, but from other fish having been in better supply, and people generally in better circumstances and more able to purchase superior quality.
Trevally.—This fine little fish has been in fair supply, particularly towards the autumn,
Kingfish is only occasionally a visitor to our shores; a few are caught every summer.
Blue Cod is a very common fish, and to be caught all round the coast. Two different fishes are included in this term, and one of them is sometimes called Black Cod. They are very much alike in shape, but the scales are different. A good many Blue Cod are sent up from Stewart Island.
Rock Cod, or Red Cod, is very common, occurring in the Harbour in large shoals, and a favourite object of sport from all the jetties and piers
as well as from boats in the channels. It is also caught outside the Heads in from five to ten fathoms of water.
Ling has a sickly look about it, which keeps people from fancying it much; but it is, nevertheless, a most palatable article of food, and, moreover, can be salted down with great ease. It is caught in the Harbour occasionally, but is mostly got off the coast.
Butterfish is a misnomer. At least the fish so termed here is not the same as the one known by that name in the North. It is pretty commonly caught in the Harbour, but is never very numerous, the seiners finding a few in the nets among Flounders, etc. A true Butterfish was exhibited in Mr. Melville's window on Thursday last; a very different fish from the one known here.
Mullet, or Herring of the fisherman.—This fish is very abundant at times, large shoals filling the bays in the lower Harbour, particularly during summer and autumn, and great hauls are often made. It takes bait, too, and is a source of pleasureable employment to many, from boats or from the jetties. A true Herring visits the coast in immense profusion in the autumn, particularly off Green Island and Sandfly Bay, when the settlers generally manage to catch a few, but they are never brought to market. The time of their arrival on the coast is uncertain, and is only known by the great flocks of birds, etc., which attend the shoals.
Garfish are pretty common in the summer and autumn months, and are generally caught in nets. This fish is never very large, but is excellent eating,
The Sandling, or Sand-eel, is not an Eel at all. It is also a summer fish, and not uncommon.
Flounders are in the market all through the year; they are netted in the Lower Harbour and the various inlets up and down the coast, as well as speared in the shallows. Flounders are rather over-fished, and are neither so large nor so plentiful as they used to be.
Soles are now more plentiful than formerly, but are in very irregular supply.
Skate is common enough, but not very often brought to market. I wonder more attention is not paid to this fish, considering it is such a favourite article of food in the old country. I remember a pretty large Stingaree being caught, nearly four feet square. It was cut up and sold in Dunedin.
Subjoined are a few miscellaneous particulars regarding fish supply during the year:—
August was a rather stormy month, and there were eleven days during which there were no fish in the market. Crayfish were plentiful during the month.
September was characterized by steady weather, and fish were rather scarce all through; on fine days there were no fish. Crayfish adundant. On the 27th, two Barracoota were brought to market—a long time in advance of the regular date. It is curious that odd Barracoota are caught now and then in the winter time, while Cod or Groper fishing outside. It happens generally when the hook is just about reaching the bottom, as if the fish were then feeding near the bottom, and came to the surface when the water became warmer and feed more plentiful.
Very changeable weather prevailed during October, and during eight days there were no fish. The Barracoota arrived in force on the 30th.
November was very stormy, with some cold wet days, but fish were in pretty good supply, except for three days, when there were none. On the 30th, a fine Sea Trout, weighing 10 ½ lbs., was caught in the Lower Harbour.
December saw the market well supplied, except for a few days towards the end, when thick dirty weather prevailed. A feature was, that a good many Blue Cod and some Granite Trout were sent up from Port Molyneux, having been caught near the Nuggets.
All the month of January there was a good supply of fish. On the 17th, a Swordfish, 10 ft. 4 in. long by 4 ft. 6 in. round, was caught near Quarantine Island. On the 24th, a Conger Eel, 4 ft. long, was exhibited in one of the shops, and another Salmon Trout, 10 ½ lbs. weight, was caught in the Lower Harbour.
On the 3rd February, a strange fish, resembling a Trevally, was brought to town. It was over 2 ft. long and 10 in. deep, sharp pectoral fin and forked tail, bright white round scales.
On March 2nd, a fish, called “Fiddle Head,” was caught outside the Heads. It measured 6 ft. long by 4 ft. broad, and weighed 2 cwt. About the middle of the month a great many very small Flounders, Herrings, etc., were brought to market, too small for use, causing a good deal of remark as to the bad tendency of such a practice.
April was marked by a continuance of good weather, with but one break from “sou'-west,” and fish were in good supply the whole month. On the 5th, a few fresh-water Eels were on sale, some of them large. Herrings were very plentiful, and about the middle of the month the supply of Ling was extremely good, the fish mostly large and of good quality.
During May the supply was good, except during a few stormy days.
Fish were in rather small supply during the first half of June. A large Conger Eel was shown on the 2nd.
July was characterized by a succession of calm frosts, and at times dull weather, till towards the close of the month, when there was a northerly gale. The supply of fish was liberal, and the variety and quality both alike good.
At the present time (July, 1876), and for some months back, there have been employed in the fishing trade, in the Harbour of Otago, 32 boats, employing about 80 men. In the net fishing in the Harbour, 16 boats are pretty regularly employed, worked by 36 men; most of the boats have only two men as crew. In the outside or deep-water branch of the trade, 17 boats are engaged, with over 40 men as the crews. Most of the seining boats are out at work nearly every tide, while the others are more dependent on the weather, the state of the sea, etc., which causes give rise to long spells of enforced idleness, and also prevent the boats from venturing very far from the Heads, there being no place to run for shelter in case of emergency. As an example of this, the fatal accident of last week is a case in point: the men fishing near Cape Saunders were driven south, and ran their boat in on the rocks at Sandfly to escape drowning. The boat was lost, and one of the men killed attempting to climb the high cliff there.
Complaints have been frequently made during the past few months about the size of the fish brought to market. This is most apparent in the case of flat fish, particularly Flounders and Soles, which are often exposed for sale of a ridiculously small size. It is a wonder that this evil is not apparent to the fishermen themselves, for it is really destroying their means of existence. If the practice is carried on much longer, the Flounder will soon become a very rare fish in our waters. Legislative interference has been talked of, either by insisting on a close time, or by regulating the size of the meshes of the nets used. The first would be a very difficult matter to arrange, as the fishes are not all in season at the same time, so that a close time would simply mean a time when there would be no fish at all. Restricting the size of the meshes in the nets used would hardly do either, the system adopted in Otago Harbour and the various tidal inlets in the neighbourhood, being seine fishing, when a long narrow net with a deep bunt is used. This net is made to catch all fish that are to be found in the Harbour. The meshes in the nets vary from an inch in the wings to about half an inch in the bunt. A much larger mesh would do to catch even small Flounders, but all other fish—Herrings, Trevally, Sandling, Garfish, and the like—would pass through and never be seen; the small mesh in the bunt of the net is the very thing for catching the miscellaneous shoals of fish which come up the Harbour with the young flood tide. I have seen over a dozen sorts of fish in one haul, ranging from Barracoota and Elephant Fish down to Garfish and Herrings—the smaller sorts all meshed in the neighbourhood of the bunt, causing no end of trouble ere the net could be cleared again for another haul. Now, any alteration in the way of increasing the size of the mesh would prevent all those sorts of fish being retained in the net; they would all escape through the wide meshes.
Instead of meddling with the net, I would suggest that it be made illegal to bring fish under a certain size ashore for sale. It would be a very easy matter for the fishermen, when gathering the fish from the net, to leave behind all those under a certain prescribed size, and they would soon find their, way into the deep water again. Although a good deal of the seine fishing is done during the night, there is nothing to hinder this being done. A somewhat similar practice is carried out in the Oyster-dredging trade in the Old Country—all under a certain size are thrown overboard again. If the fishermen were to be fined so much for every fish under a certain size found in their boats, the evil would soon cure itself. I would further suggest that an Inspector should be appointed to look after the above and other matters connected with it; one thing in particular being the protection of the Salmon Trout which are now known to frequent the Harbour, and which will soon become extinct if the indiscriminate system of fishing be allowed to continue much longer.
In connection with this subject, there is another matter I should like to mention, though perhaps this is hardly the place for doing so—I mean the want of a Market-place for the sale of fish, where the consumer could meet with the fisherman directly, instead of, as now, through the medium of a middle-man or a shopkeeper. This has been a long-felt want, and has tended more than anything else to keep back the fishing trade; into which many enterprising men have entered only to be discouraged, and eventually disgusted, with the want of encouragement shown to them. Were a proper Market established in some convenient central position, put under proper regulations, and kept clean and tidy, I have not the slightest doubt that in a very short time such a thing as a scarcity of fish, except when caused by a continuance of stormy weather, would very seldom be heard of.