Commercial fishermen Carl Warr (left) and Matt Douglas are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Gabriel on the waters seven months after it struck. Photography: James Pocock
Commercial fishermen say their catches have declined and there is still debris and sediment accumulating on the ocean floor in Hawke’s Bay, with the effects of Hurricane Gabriel continuing for seven months.
Sometimes, debris surfaces –
Mostly in the form of logs. It catches in nets and propellers and destroys boats.
A pile of logs pulled from the water over the past few months was lying on the floating dock in the Iron Bowl in Ahuriri, where Carl Warr’s boat is moored, from Better Fishing, when Hawke’s Bay today He visited.
Every ship in Ahuriri has encountered logs since the cyclone in some way, Warr said.
The problem is that when things will return to normal is unclear – it lies at the whim of Mother Nature and when she decides to provide favorable currents that will remove everything from the seabed.
“It still flows into the harbor and causes a hazard for them in terms of it being sucked up by the propellers of service vessels and tugs and things like that,” Warr said of the logs and other debris.
“They’re hideously expensive if you destroy one of them.”
He said he switched to a more sustainable business model some time ago in an effort to be socially responsible, but that made things difficult after Hurricane Gabriel as he was fishing near the port in the same waters where the population was hardest hit and the waters were hardest hit. Most people hunt.
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“For me, to change what I’m doing now and go away is very difficult with one of the smallest boats in the harbor here.”
Matt Douglas catches lobster, trawls and longlines in waters deeper than the War.
After the hurricane, some boats had to travel as far as Cook Strait, spending more on diesel fuel and time away from families, in order to catch target species, he said.
“For the longline fleet, there was almost no fishing here for the first three or four months after the hurricane at all,” Douglas said.
“It’s taking a huge toll but we’re a bit lucky – we’ve handed over some crew but we’re still working because that’s what we have to do.”
The effects of the fish shortage were made clear last week as the Department of Conservation (DoC) reported 23 dead seals of “varying ages and decomposition” were found washed up on an ocean beach over a five-day period.
Laura Borren, a marine science advisor at the Ministry of the Environment, said all indications point to starvation as the cause of death after receiving the seal autopsy results.
Boren said DoC was aware of more dead seals at Ocean Beach, and they had tracked down more than 50 dead seals on Hawke’s Bay beaches since late August, most of them pups and young.
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Hurricane Gabriel’s impact on fish populations could have something to do with the seal deaths, Douglas said, as he recently bedfished near Ocean Beach and caught far fewer than usual.
“We haven’t had any luck. We have three boxes and usually get 15 to 20.”
For hunters, there is no quick fix – all they can do is keep hoping that nature will heal itself. Southern currents are what they want.
“Hopefully, in the case of El Niño, it will resolve itself naturally, but we don’t know how long that will take,” Douglas said.
Warr said commercial fishermen were accustomed to the difficult conditions and came prepared with alternative plans.
“It’s a good time to think about how we fish and whether we make any changes to our fishing methodology or methods with what we’re up against,” Warr said.
“Change is difficult, but not changing can be the end.”
Not everyone in the industry has survived the past seven months. Ngāti Kahungunu’s fisheries business Takitimu Seafoods closed in April due to financial difficulties.
It reported three years of financial losses, and after the hurricane hit it became clear it would not return to profit in the near future, and the pin was pulled, with about 30 people losing their jobs.
The FirstMate charity has been running for almost two years with the aim of supporting seafood sector workers and their families with mental health and wellbeing, and has recently secured funding from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
Vicky Hunt, a recently appointed adverse event navigator at FirstMate, said that while the impacts were not easy to see on the surface, an already difficult commercial fisheries sector was still impacted by Hurricane Gabriel with siltation in fisheries.
“They are now having to fish further afield, and a lot of them were dragging logs into their nets, and even now they are still getting onions and apples in their nets,” Hunt said.
FirstMate will host a seafood sector wellbeing event in Ahuriri at the boat ramp between 11.30am and 3pm on September 21, she said.
James Pocock joined Hawke’s Bay Today in 2021 and writes breaking news and features, with a focus on environment, local government and post-cyclone issues in the region. He has a keen interest in finding the bigger picture in research and making it accessible to audiences. Lives in Napier. email@example.com