Art. LII.—Our Fish Supply.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 13th August, 1878.]
I leg to lay before the members of the Institute the third and concluding series of my notes on the Dunedin Fish Supply.* I think enough has been done to show the times and seasons of the principal food fishes of this part of the colony; and if some one will take up a similar duty for a port in the north, say Auckland, and another for one in the middle of the colony, say Wellington, a very good idea may then be had of the whole question.
The most important event of the past year in connection with my subject, was the passing of an Act regulating Fisheries, by the Colonial Legislature. It may be thought presumptuous on my part, but I must take a little credit in having at least assisted in bringing this about. A little stir has been induced, both among the fishermen and the dealers, by the fact of some one being in their midst who was “taking notes.” During the past year or two I have been in frequent communication with the dealers, as well as by paragraphs in the Press, urging the necessity of steps being taken to preserve the fisheries in the harbour from utter destruction, by either refusing to take from the fishermen any fish under a certain size, or agreeing among themselves to refuse dealing with those who persisted in bringing undersized fish to town. The Act was rather a surprise, as no one here knew of its introduction to the House until it had passed its second reading, and in the hurry at the close of the session there was no time for
[Footnote] * Vide Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. IX., Art. LXVII. and Vol. X., Art. XLIV.
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|Names of Fishes.||Number of Days in Market.|
|Native or Settlers'.||Scientific.||Aug.||Sept.||Oct.||Nov.||Dec.||Jan.||Feb.||Mar.||April.||May.||June.||July.||Total.||Average for Three Years.|
|Hapuka, Groper||Oligorus gigas||4||14||21||16||19||16||19||18||23||7||157||153|
|Kahawai, Salmon||Arripis salar||4||1||5||3|
|Tamure, Snapper||Parus unicolor||1||1||1||1||4||2|
|Kohi, Trumpeter||Latris hecateia||2||3||8||2||4||3||3||2||1||1||29||29|
|Mangu, Barracoota||Thyrsites atun||2||24||16||18||7||14||16||11||1||109||112|
|Hiku, Frostfish||Lepidopus caudatus||1||1||6||20||28||13|
|Pakirikiri, Blue Cod||Percis colias||11||9||6||15||1||5||2||1||1||5||5||4||65||84|
|Red Cod||Lotella bacchus||23||23||22||25||20||22||17||26||25||24||20||20||267||197|
|Sandling or Sandeel||Gonorhynchus greyi||4||5||4||2||1||1||3||5||4||2||4||35||41|
|Ihi, Garfish||Hemiramphus intermedius||2||15||13||1||5||1||1||1||39||33|
|Butterfish (true)||Coridodax pullus||1||5||6||1||1||1||3||2||2||1||23||9|
|Wrasse, or Perch||Labrichthys celidota||2||2||4||2||1||11|
|Makuwhiti, Mullet, or Herring||Agonostoma forsteri||11||4||7||18||10||11||13||22||14||16||5||16||147||179|
|Arara, Trevally||Neptomenus brama||8||1||1||7||5||5||18||22||17||13||11||2||110||107|
|Patiki, Flounder||Rhombosolea monopus||24||20||24||25||23||23||23||26||25||23||22||24||282||181|
|Sole||Peltorhamphus n. zealandiæ||1||1||1||4||2||2||11||20|
|number of days on which there were no fish||1||1||3||2||1||1||1||10||21|
alteration. A synopsis of the Bill appeared in one of the Dunedin papers, and I wrote pointing out what I thought objectionable features. When a copy of the Act was procured, it was found to be very general in its details, and as far as Otago harbour is concerned, almost unworkable. When Ministers arrived in Dunedin, after the close of the session, no time was lost by the dealers in waiting on them and ascertaining the intention of the Government in the matter. Deputations explained what was wanted, and arrangements were made for a conference of all concerned, fishermen and dealers, which took place on January 5th. After a number of those present had expressed their sentiments on the matter, a memorandum was drawn up, setting forth the sizes of fish which were to be considered marketable. These sizes were:—That no flounders should be sold under nine inches long; no red cod under ten inches; no mullet under nine inches; and no garfish under fourteen inches—a penalty to be incurred for contravention. It was not considered advisable to make any regulations about the outside fishing, as it was thought that risk, weather, etc., were quite sufficient protection. After this it was thought there would be no grumbling at any steps that might be taken to carry out the objects of the Act, which are, so far, of a merely tentative nature.
Nothing has yet been done in the way of establishing a fish market in the city, but as the matter has now been taken in hand by that active and influential body, the Chamber of Commerce, it is to be hoped that a market place for the sale of fish, etc., will soon be in full swing.
The following table gives the details of the various fishes, taken day by day from the different shops in the town, as well as by inquiries at the jetties, Port Chalmers, etc. I have taken great pains with the table, and the information it contains may be taken as substantially correct.
Various other fishes occur, but at irregular intervals, and only one or two at a time. Among these I may mention the following as occurring most frequently:—The Whiting, Pseudophycis breviusculus, is got occasionally, as is also the Haddock, Gadus australis. The Granite Trout, Haplodactylus meandratus, occurs now and then. Quite a lot of Horse Mackerel, Trachurus trachurus, were brought to town in March last, only individual specimens being the rule previously. Occasionally a few Gurnard, Trigla kumu, may be seen in the shops, but they are very shy visitors. About the end of January, a few Tarakihi, Chilodactylus macropterus, were brought to market, so it must be enrolled as a summer visitor. That very dark-skinned fish, the Maori Chief, Notothenia maoriensis, of Dr. Haast, is not uncommon, but is rarely seen more than one at a time. The Herring, Clupea sagax, did not turn up during the past summer as usual. The Kingfish, Seriola lalandii, also put in no appearance this year.
Of the regular food fishes the following notes may be of interest:—
The Hapuka or Groper was in pretty regular supply from the close of September till towards the end of June. The demand for this fine fish is not half so great as it should be. It was in the market 157 days.
Ling has been in rather irregular supply during the year. For a few days this fish would be quite common, and then for a week or a fortnight there would be none at all, and this quite irrespective of the weather. Was 79 days in the market.
Kahawai was in good supply for a few days in January, and occurred again in March.
Snapper was brought to town in summer and autumn, but the catch was limited to a few individual specimens, all of good sizes.
Moki was constantly to be found in the market, a few days at a time, all through the year, though most numerous in the summer months. Was in the market 105 days.
Trumpeter was in rather short supply during the year, very few having been received from the southward. 29 days in the market.
The Barracoota made its appearance on the 29th October, when a solitary specimen was caught, followed by abundance on the 31st. It continued in season till the end of May, although one was caught by net in the Lower Harbour on the 19th of June. Was 109 days in the market.
A few Frostfish were caught (I should rather say picked up, for the fish is never caught in the ordinary sense of the word) in August, and again in April; but towards the end of June and nearly all July large numbers of this fish were brought to town, one dealer passing no fewer than 109 through his hands in a fortnight, mostly brought from the vicinity of Purakanui. On all the beaches to the west of the Heads, and away to the north, particularly about Moeraki, large numbers were got. Nothing is yet definitely known as to why this fish comes ashore in the peculiar way it does, but I may give you the latest theory as it appeared in one of the papers here a week or two ago. The writer said:—“The stranding of these fish is accounted for from the fact that, not being well supplied with fins, they swim with an undulating motion, like that of the leech, the head being elevated. In cold weather they follow their prey into shallow water, and when the tail touches the ground they become helpless, and are washed ashore.” The writer was very easily crammed. It is a noticeable fact that all the fish are about the same size—4 ½ feet to 5 feet in length. In the market 28 days, being the longest known.
Blue Cod.—This staple fish was in fair supply nearly all the year, with the exception of some weeks in winter, when there was some severe weather, which put a stop to outside fishing. The supply from Stewart Island was very irregular. Was 65 days in the market.
Red Cod.—Both from inside and outside fishings; was in very regular supply, the shops being seldom without a few. Indeed, this fish is alway to be had, and is in finest condition during the winter months, when pretty large takes of good-sized specimens are got from the outside fishery, those caught by the seine-net in the harbour being as a rule much smaller. Red Cod was in the market 267 days.
Sandling or Sandeel.—This delicate little fish is never very plentiful, but a few are generally caught in the seine-nets. Properly cooked, this is one of our finest food fishes. Was present 35 days.
Garfish was pretty plentiful during the spring and summer. In October immense numbers were brought to town, large shoals being present in the Lower Harbour for several days. In the market 39 days.
The true Butterfish was more frequently brought to town during the past year than ever before. Some of them were of pretty large size, and mostly netted among the rocks along the coast, and near Moeraki. 23 days in the market.
Wrasse, Parrotfish, and Spotties were often in the market, the latter especially being a regular seine-fish, and got along with Flounders, etc. There are two sorts of Spotty—a big and a little. The Wrasse and Parrotfish are mostly caught outside among the kelp, and with the Spotty are indiscriminately named Kelp-fish by the fishermen, though the term Butter-fish is also given to the smaller sorts. Spotties in market 154 days.
The Mullet or Herring is to be had almost constantly, and is present in greater or less quantity the whole year round. At very irregular periods large shoals of the fish congregate in the Harbour, when they are caught by the net in immense numbers. This fish gives good sport with rod and line. Was 147 days in the market.
Trevally.—This excellent little fish is also a [ unclear: ] constant visitor, and may be had in quantity all the year round. Some pretty large ones are now and then to be seen. Was 110 days in the market.
That favourite fish the Flounder was in full supply nearly all the year. Latterly, I notice that the Flounders brought to town have increased in size a little; it is to be hoped that this will continue, and that the new Act will have some influence with those who catch them. 282 days in the market.
Soles are not very common, only those caught by the seine being brought to market. If trawling were introduced in suitable localities along the coast, the fish would be more plentiful. [ unclear: ] Was 11 days in market.
Skate was brought to market on 23 days. Those exhibited were mostly of small size.
I subjoin the following notes on the weather, incidents, etc., for the twelve months:—
August was characterised by cold and dull weather, with two or three
storms. Fish, with the exception of small Flounders and Mullet, were generally scarce.
September had very, stormy weather at the beginning, which moderated gradually towards the end. The supply of fish sympathised with the weather, being very scarce at commencement, and improved towards the close.
October.—The weather was fine at the beginning, but stormy and irregular towards the close. There was a good supply of fish about the middle of the month. Butterfish were pretty numerous. On the 25th, very large hauls of Garfish were made in the Lower Harbour, and this fish was very abundant for some days. On the 29th, a solitary Barracoota was caught in a net in the harbour, and next day the fishermen were out for miles off the coast, looking for the expected shoal, but were unsuccessful. On the 31st, they were met with in abundance. A new curing work was started this month in Horseshoe Bay, Stewart Island, to employ about 20 men, two large cutters, and several smaller boats.
November was a month of full and pretty varied supply, the weather mostly fine, with some dull and showery days.
There was some stormy weather during December, but the supply of fish was pretty liberal. A well-boat started to work the reefs off the coast between Waikouaiti and Moeraki, the intention being to bring the fish alive up to the town jetty.
Fish were in full supply during January, save during one or two days of rough weather, which kept the boats from getting out. On the 24th, a fine Snapper was caught, rather larger than the ordinary run of these visitors to our coast. It was 13 lbs. in weight, 29 inches long, by 24 inches in girth. On the 29th, some Tarakihi were brought to market, accompanied by some fine large Trumpeter.
February, except for a few days at the beginning of the month, was a time of full supply, both large and small fish being plentiful. On the 20th, a large Stingaree (Trigon thalassia) was caught and brought into town; and on the 22nd a Conger-eel (Conger vulgaris), 6 feet 2 inches long, weighing 40 lbs., was on exhibition.
During March there was a fair average supply of all varieties. For some days near the beginning of the month a number of Horse Mackerel were brought to the market. On the 14th a Snapper, and on the 18th a Kahawai was caught.
At the beginning of April fish were abundant, but the supply fell off towards the middle, when severe cold weather prevailed. On the 20th two Frostfish were brought to town, and on the 23rd a big Snapper. An incident of the month was the imposition of a license fee, under the authority of the new Act, of £1 for each net in use.
Fish were in fair supply during May, except during a few days of stormy weather. Some exceptionally large Flounders were caught on the 7th; on the 8th, a fine Snapper; and towards the close of the month Trevally were very plentiful.
June was a month of very severe weather all through, but with the exception of a few days the supply was good and sometimes plentiful. On the 19th, a solitary Barracoota was caught in a net in the Lower Harbour. A market for the sale of fish, etc., was the subject of some discussion during the month.
July was characterised by a continuance of fine clear frosty weather nearly all through the month, winding up with a snowstorm on the last day. The great feature of the month was the abundance of Frostfish which were brought to town in greater or less number for 20 days. They were mostly brought from the beaches between Blueskin and the Heads, and formed quite a small harvest to the younger settlers along that line of the coast, as pretty fair prices were given for them by the dealers, who resold them at prices ranging from five to ten shillings each.
In accordance with the wish of the President and others, expressed at the time I read the paper last year, I wrote to Mr. Traill, of Stewart Island, for particulars as to the state of the trade there, but I never received any reply. However, I am able to give the following statistics as to the number of boats and men engaged in the trade at the present time, August 7th, 1878:—
There are engaged in the fishing, outside of the Heads, 9 whale-boats and 2 cutters, employing about 30 men. In the Harbour or seining branch there are 16 boats and about 40 men engaged. At Port Chalmers there are two smoke-houses with four men to each. At Stewart Island I have learned there are two smoke-houses, and about 30 men engaged in boating, etc.
Hoping that the figures and facts I have drawn together may be some use to the members, I now bring my three years' task to a conclusion.