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A shared fishery can create tensions, but marine experts Scott and Sue Tindale say there are many improvements that can be made towards a healthy marine environment and a thriving fishery – and much of that is in the recreational and science space. LESLEY HAMILTON reports.

Sue and Scott Tindale know a lot about the marine environment. They have been on it or under it for most of their lives.

Retiring early after successful careers in the corporate world, the Tindales turned their experience in sport fishing and their decades-long knowledge of the marine environment to contribute data and knowledge to scientists, fellow anglers and fisheries managers.

The Tindale Marine Research Charitable Trust was formed in 2018 by the couple as a place to educate and showcase marine research and citizen science in and around New Zealand.

Because of a huge gap in the knowledge of New Zealand’s inshore species, the Trust initiated a New Zealand-wide inshore fish tagging programme for all fishers to become involved in.

The Tindales live and breathe the marine environment and while they have achieved unprecedented success in the sport and game fishing world, their passion now is to educate others about best practises and initiatives.

Six years ago the Tindales achieved the pinnacle of game fishing accolades with both receiving International Game Fishing Association lifetime achievement awards for surpassing 100 world records. Only eight male and eight female fishers in the world have received them.

Scott Tindale says, even when sport fishing, they would release healthy fish unless there was a good reason not to. “We wouldn’t keep a fish unless it was a world record and there was some scientist who was keen on examining it or it was going into a world collection, so we were fishing to order and getting world records while we were at it.”

They satellite tagged hammerheads and short finned makos for NIWA and the couple are among only a handful with a permit to research tag great white sharks, manta rays and other protected species. The data is invaluable.

“We always assumed the makos headed to the tropics in the middle of winter and came back in the summer. The opposite happened. They were sitting off the West Coast in the hoki fishery and only left the EEZ for two or three weeks. One of the tags we got back from a manta ray showed it had dived to depths of 4000 metres.”

When time allows, they help out at the Auckland Museum’s wet lab, which is where the marine specimens going into collections are preserved and catalogued for future study and they assist with necropsies of great white sharks reported to DOC.

They feel strongly about the shortcomings of New Zealand’s shared fishery, and are not afraid to voice it. Spending in excess of 100 days every year out on the water doing research gives those voices clout.

Scott Tindale says the commercial sector is not perfect, but it contributes to marine research, the catch is quantified, and they are continually upgrading procedures.

He is not as kind when talking about the education and regulation around recreational fishers – and he is scathing of those who seek to blame the commercial sector for all ills with any fishery.

Recreational catch mortality is very high, according to Tindale.

“Most have no idea how to handle or unhook a fish, exercise poor tackle selection like barbed ‘J’ or three-pronged hooks that cause gut hooking of unwanted or undersized fish, and they just chuck it back dead or dying and call that recreational catch. I call it dumping and high grading,” says Tindale.

“Look, I am not MPI and I don’t want to be the fun police either. My job is to educate people about the best way to do things but there is a lot of work to do.”

The couple call weekends on the Hauraki Gulf the charge of the light brigade with pleasure craft charging through the middle of a work-up, flattening seabirds.

“I had one guy ring me up laughing because he had his windscreen smashed by a couple of gannets. So, I am sitting on these working groups and these guys are only on about commercial bycatch and I just throw my phone on the table and show them a video of a guy strangling a shag while he is trying to get his live bait hook out of his mouth – and he did that twice while I was filming.”

Tindale says they were incredibly frustrated with the misinformation in the public domain and the apparent reluctance to contradict it with fact. “Part of the reason for starting the Trust was we wanted to get actual data out there, not someone’s opinion or estimate or survey. I’ve done those surveys.

“I mean CRA2. MPI know I hate the National Panel Survey because it is garbage. But in CRA2 they interviewed two people and they weight the numbers. I mean if I were a fisheries officer, I might have to have a word with these two panel respondents because they got 360 crays each per day after the manipulation of the numbers. What it is, is guesswork and creative accounting.

“And the ramp surveys. Try coming to Gulf Harbour where there are punch ups because there is so much traffic queuing for the ramp. Try getting someone to stop for a three-minute survey there. If your car is stopped someone is going to throw a brick at you. We were at Shelley beach and we were just waiting for the queue to die down, so I just wandered over to the woman doing the ramp survey and asked her how many she had counted. She said no one wanted to talk to her and the only ones who approached her were new to the area and wanted to know where the fish were. Then I gave some guys a hand with their chilly bin and they sniggered and said they caught nothing. I had damn near put my back out lifting it out of the boat for them,” says Tindale.

According to NIWA, the average recreational fisherman catches 1.2 kilos of fish per person per year on four trips.

Tindale says every recreational angler he knows, even the ones who are hopeless at catching fish can do better than that.

Then there are the aerial surveys.

“We were out on the top of the Manukau Bar the same day DOC was doing the aerial survey for Maui dolphins where they came up with the number 50– and I counted 17 of them around my boat in three different locations. We jokingly put a complaint into DOC that they were chasing our kahawai away.”

Scott and Sue Tindale say the ministry’s research done in New Zealand on inshore species needs to get out faster and shouted from the rooftops, but it is not.

“Why is the research not being shared as it is done, not five years down the track when it may be peer reviewed, but it is out of date? Instead of arguing the tarakihi is functionally extinct based on a research project that was done six years earlier, why aren’t we releasing the latest one that shows they have bounced back?”

So why does Tindale think there is such a divide between recreational and commercial fishers?

“There are a lot of people who don’t fish, or don’t fish that often. Even with our tagging programme, the first reaction I got from recreational fishers was whether I was going to give all the data on their fishing spots to the commercial guys. I told them I was pretty sure that the commercial fishers who are out there 365 days a year are not interested in the one spot you go on that one weekend in January along with everyone else.”

NIWA estimates some 20 percent of the population fish recreationally and Tindale says 33 percent of them fish in the Hauraki Gulf, where there is very limited commercial fishing.

“Recreational fishers claim the Gulf is functionally extinct yet each time I go out there I can’t avoid catching fish. We have rules of which fish you can catch and how many you can catch but no one tells you how to fish,” says Tindale.

“I have done a lot of research on the species everyone claims they can’t catch in the Gulf like tarakihi, snapper, and kahawai. But everyone is hell bent on charging into the Motuihe channel to sit next to their mate’s boat with the stereo blaring and wonder why they’re not catching anything.

“It’s a patch of water that is next to the largest city in New Zealand and everyone wants to blame someone else for not catching fish.”

The Tindales say the need for recreational education is urgent.

“We help Southern Seabirds at the boat shows and ask every person who walks by if they have ever caught a seabird. At the Auckland on the Water show every single person said yes. Yet, while the commercial sector is using dyed baits and tori lines, there are no mitigation methods expected of any other fisher. And where are the resources being put into telling them how to release a bird safely if you do catch one? And telling them there is legislation that says you must report every protected sea bird capture?

“When Sue and I wander along any beach it is common to find discarded fishing line and dead seabirds with wings missing. Braid is deadly and cuts a seabird’s wing off easily if they get tangled and the rod is struck to flick it off.

“I was part of working groups on seabirds where they would just beat up on commercial fishers and I’d go hold on; how many birds did commercial have interactions with last year? And I would comment that I see more birds caught by recreational fishers on a long weekend on the Hauraki.”

The Tindales are constantly seeing unacceptable behaviour.

“We filmed a dead Antipodean Albatross floating on the water off Whangaroa in the hapuku grounds. It had only just been thrown overboard because when you see the small feathers floating around it you know it hasn’t been there very long. It had its throat cut. A fortnight later when I was in a seabird working group, I showed them the photographs. I also told them I know for a fact a commercial crew was not responsible,” says Tindale. The subject was changed.

However, it is the ignorance around commercial fishing that really riles Tindale up.

“The last meeting I had with LegaSea I had to explain what the EEZ was. They were having this argument about kicking commercial boats out to 50 miles and I told them New Zealand territorial waters only go out to 12 nautical miles. They didn’t understand that the EEZ only gave us exclusive rights to extract from it.

“Another meeting I had with them they were going on about purse seining for skip jack tuna and bleating on about how it was destroying the seabed. I mean, honestly, did these guys actually think the purse seiner net touches the bottom?”

Tindale does not believe LegaSea and other eNGOs actually believe what they are saying. “It’s money. LegaSea is a limited liability company. It can’t get funding unless they create a problem that they say needs fixing. My answer to them is if they are so worried about fish stocks, we should count the recreational catch. Boy that goes down like a lead balloon, with screams of ‘it’s our birth right’,” says Tindale. Both believe these groups should be accountable for the misleading information placed in the domain. Meanwhile, the Tindales just get on with their core job of educating people through their own tagging programme.

“When we were assisting NIWA it was frustrating that they didn’t want to release the information right away. With our programme, updates are put on social media regularly, I analyse the database here and do quarterly reports that are available on the Trust’s website for everyone to see.

“It’s about getting fishers to think about more than just killing fish. Let’s find out how fast they grow and where they move. I want the average guy out there to know that that 54cm kahawai that they just caught could be 24 years old. Or, if they let that snapper go at 20cms there is 90 percent chance it is of breeding age and if it gets recaptured in a years’ time it will have put out two million eggs.”

Tindale says it’s not about them and us.

“It’s about education, consistent, well-flagged regulations, robust and speedy science, and the holding accountable of those who choose to spread misinformation.”

“Anyone who cares about a healthy, shared resource should be working with all sectors, not against.”