On board Otakou - 30 hours on a Hoki Trawler

There is a typically Tamzin back story to this adventure that I must share with you. While out whale watching with E-Ko Tours (see previous blog), I noticed a bright blue fishing trawler coming through Tory Entrance surrounded by seabirds. After just a glimpse of an albatross earlier in the day and the road to Kaikoura (my regular albatross fix) currently closed, I was desperate to get out among the big birds again. When I was home, armed with a great pic of Otakou cruising through the Tory Channel, I emailed a generic Sealord address asking how one gets to come and play on their vessels. Sadly, there was no response. Fortuitously, the following week, Otakou and Sealord featured on Ocean Bounty, a program which follows the fishing fleet around New Zealand, I decided to resend my email saying how much I liked the show and how I’d really like a day out with them. Luckily, I received a reply. After a meeting in Nelson to discuss my agenda, and a few emails sorting logistics, I found myself at 12am walking in the pouring rain towards the gates at Port Marlborough with my sleeping bag, pillow, warm clothes and a mountain of camera gear – I was heading out into the Cook Strait with Otakou for a day of Hoki fishing

 FV Otakou in the Tory Channel entrance

FV Otakou in the Tory Channel entrance

Once I had been shown around the vessel and given a safety briefing, I climbed into my bunk at 1am and finally drifted off to sleep. I was up again at 6am (we hadn’t left Picton yet) and I was keen to document our departure. I was introduced to the skipper, Jim, and spent most of the cruise out on the bridge, chatting about what my goal of the day was, and how their day was scheduled.

 FV Otakou before leaving Picton

FV Otakou before leaving Picton

 First light leaving Tory Entrance

First light leaving Tory Entrance

 Sunrise from the bridge on Otakou

Sunrise from the bridge on Otakou

The idea was to photograph as many seabirds as possible, observing if there was a difference in species between the fishing boats and the organised pelagic birding trip I had been out on the Sunday before (blog to come on that!) and to photograph the seabird mitigation devices – in this case bird bafflers for Southern Seabirds Solutions Trust to use in their education and outreach program. I was completely bird focussed until I was on the vessel and interacting with the crew.

 Bird Bafflers in action

Bird Bafflers in action

 Black-Browed Albatross

Black-Browed Albatross

 Salvins Albatross

Salvins Albatross

 Otakou crew splicing rope

Otakou crew splicing rope

I must admit I didn’t know a lot about Hoki fishing and had a perhaps unfounded negative view of trawlers. However, this opinion has been entirely altered by my day out. Jim was absolutely accommodating and understanding of my goals for the day, he openly answered any questions I had and made me feel so welcome on board. From the moment the first net was being prepared, it was obvious how hard these guys worked. Between the mid-sea trawl net, the minimal bycatch and the way the bird bafflers worked, I was truly impressed with the sustainability of the catch and professionalism of the Sealord team

 Otakou crew in action

Otakou crew in action

 Otakou crew working hard

Otakou crew working hard

 A net full of hoki

A net full of hoki

 Otakou crew working hard

Otakou crew working hard

We had an amazing species range on the day – For the bird nerds, we saw Southern and Northern Royal Albatross, Gibson’s Wanderers, Salvins, Black-Browed, White-Capped, and Bullers Mollymawks, Giant Petrels, Cape Petrels, Westland Petrels and Fairy Prions as well as a load of NZ Fur Seals AND a sperm whale! What a list!!

In between the nets being hauled in, Jim delighted me by announcing that I could head down to the main deck to stand above the offal chute. This gave me the opportunity for some incredible close-ups of the squabbling birds, and I couldn’t be prouder of the photos that came out of this sequence.

 A very old Southern Royal Albatross

A very old Southern Royal Albatross

 Double trouble - Salvins Albatross

Double trouble - Salvins Albatross

 Royal Albatross (Southern I think, but could be wrong)

Royal Albatross (Southern I think, but could be wrong)

 Mostly Salvins Albatross

Mostly Salvins Albatross

 Salvins Albatross

Salvins Albatross

 Fighting over the offal

Fighting over the offal

Finally, heading back to my bunk after a dinner of T-Bone steak and all the trimmings (these guys eat so well), I had the chance to reflect on my day, and my opinion of the NZ fishing industry. While I was so excited for the sea birds, they almost took a second seat to the work on board. I had completely underestimated the human element of my day out. I drifted in and out of sleep to the sound of chains banging and the engine running as these guys worked hard into the night. When I woke in the early hours of the following morning, we were back in Picton and the crew were already up on deck getting ready to offload their catch to be trucked to Nelson, They would then turn back out to sea and do it all again.

 Hoki

Hoki

 Emptying the bag

Emptying the bag

 A net full of hoki

A net full of hoki

 Whale spotting

Whale spotting

I am so thankful for the opportunity to spend a day with the Otakou crew, and would jump at any chance to do something similar again, next time I might be brave enough to head down into the factory but I wasn’t going risk getting seasick when I only had 30 hours to capture all I could.

Special mention to Jim, Ben and the Otakou crew, Debbie for hearing my plea to come on board and Theo for sorting the logistics – Sealord staff are awesome!

 Seabirds waiting for the offal

Seabirds waiting for the offal

 Hoki

Hoki

 Bird Bafflers in action

Bird Bafflers in action

 Southern Royal Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross

 All go on Otakou as the bag comes in.

All go on Otakou as the bag comes in.

 Salvins Albatross

Salvins Albatross