In September 2021, factory trawlers were congregating off the coast of Fiordland, around an underwater geological feature called the Puysegur Bank. The bank has multiple sea mounts, undersea mountains that create habitat for diverse species. We found a not-too-drowny weather window and a skipper willing to take us out (finally). The journey was 100 nautical miles from Bluff.
Of course, as soon as some things align, others fall out of place. We had the boat, we had the weather, but our videographer and drone pilot were stuck in the north island. We put a frantic call out, and the hive mind delivered. Siana, Jef, Jaz and our new recruits Nick and Pablo, made the mission from Christchurch to Bluff. Jaz used to work on the fishing boats, and we were stoked to have her along on the mission. Pablo had never been on a big boat trip before. Talk about being thrown in the deep end!
We got to Bluff just in time for a burger and a briefing. We got a few hours sleep, checked on the trawlers’ positions, then met our skipper and vessel at the dock, early-o-clock. The morning was beautifully calm in the Foveaux Strait. We hussed it West for 4 hours, the occasional shark fin cresting the waves. Our skipper blasted classic rock on his speaker. When we got to the area the trawlers should have been we couldn’t see them. Our skipper was getting nervous about having enough fuel to get back. It was a low moment. Not what you want. Luckily, eagle-eyes Jef spotted the San Discovery, a tiny white blip in the distance. We entered a sea of seabirds around the back of the trawler.
The sixty-four metre San Discovery, a Sanford vessel, had its nets out, the doors that weight the net to the ocean floor were down, meaning the net was dragging along the Puysegur Bank over sea mounts, picking up whatever was in its way. Locals told us they’d be fishing for flatfish, a bottom dwelling species, and that’s not the only thing they’ll catch. The Puysegur Bank is an ecologically diverse region, home to many threatened and fragile species.
The smell was horrendous. Damaged or non-target fish and unwanted species are crushed into meal. This is a combine harvester of the sea. We wanted to film the trawler pulling up its nets, but our skipper was getting nervous about the length of our return journey. Eventually we headed back east, leaving the San Discovery and the Pacinui (another giant factory trawler) behind on the horizon. We got back to port, a little woozy.
Our aim is to connect people to each underwater habitat and species affected by bottom trawlers. We hope that the Puysegur Bank becomes familiar to you now, as Mt Aoraki or Mt Ruapehu may be familiar to you (if you live in Aotearoa!). We’ve learned a lot that will help prepare us for more voyages next bottom trawling season in 2022. We want to get out to as many large factory vessels as we can, to mark as many acts of destructive fishing that we can, to make the invisible visible.
We are so humbled and grateful for the generous support we have received. If you have any questions or suggestions, please get in touch!
Siana, Jef, Jaz, Pablo, Nick
Taylor, Paul & Gordon, Dennis. (1997). Fenestulipora, gen. nov., an unusual Cyclostome Bryozoan from New Zealand and Indonesia. Invertebrate Systematics - INVERTEBR SYST. 11. 10.1071/IT96015.