Reel Questions, with Grant Dixon

April 16, 2020
Reel Questions is a commentary series providing an insight to the opinions and experiences of individuals who have ties with our fish life and marine environment whether it be their livelihood, playground, creative influence, culture or simply a part of their lives. They all have a varied relationship with our coast and fish. We ask them some key questions and share their answers with you. Grant Dixon – Managing Editor NZ Fishing News Grant has spent over 28 years editing, writing and publishing New Zealand’s leading monthly fishing publication, NZ Fishing News. An accomplished and enthusiastic angler and family man, Grant is a well-respected commentator on all things fishing. Listen to the full interview here. 1. Do you recall the first time you ever went fishing? I was 6-weeks old when I went on my first fishing trip in a bassinette up the front of the family’s 16ft Augustin cabin cruiser. We had a bach at Kawhia Harbour where we’d spend the whole summer. Dad would commute to work in Te Awamutu. I have many fond memories as a kid of fishing off the wharf, catching sprats for bait. We did lots of floundering. Dad would give the stingrays and sharks to the local marae to dry on racks in the traditional way. The late Rev Percy Moke, a family friend, was a wealth of knowledge on Kawhia history and where the best kaimoana could be found. We were sworn to secrecy on those spots, especially the scallops. There were lots of kahawai – especially when the white-bait were running. You could catch them on anything – Dad would bind a bit of tinfoil from his cigarette packet onto a very small hook to imitate a whitebait. As teenagers we’d do overnight trips to Taharoa – catch snapper off the rocks and cook our catch over an open fire on the beach with a bit of corrugated iron we’d hide in the flax. We lived off the land and felt like kings. 2. If you were able to do it today in the same place will the experience be any different? The harbour is probably not as abundant these days, but the offshore snapper fishery still offers some exceptional action. It does concern me when people tell me that when the weather’s right, they go and ‘bin out’ on big snapper over several days. I have been guilty of doing that in the past but these days I just fish for the pot. 3. What is your favourite way of preparing your fish for the table? Snapper is a favourite but I’ll give almost anything a go. Kahawai’s good in a red or green curry and trevally makes great ceviche. I return most of the kingfish I catch these days. If I could only eat one fish for the result of my life, it would be a toss up between John Dory and flounder, both filleted and with the skin on. Lightly floured and quickly fried with a knob of butter and a couple of splashes of a quality rice bran oil – served with just salt and pepper and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. 4. What do you feel are the biggest issues facing the future of fishing in New Zealand? Sustainability and access to our fisheries as our population grows, especially the inshore fishery. We cannot allow our politicians to get sucked into ring fencing the recreational take. Recreational anglers should reap the rewards of their sustainable fishing contributions where they have accepted increased minimum fish sizes and reducing harvest efforts such as using fewer longline hooks and cray pots. The other big issue is water quality; farm run-off and forestry harvesting silting our harbours and estuaries. 5. If you were the Minister of Fisheries right now what would you do first and what would you wish to be remembered for? The first thing I’d do is acknowledge the part recreational fishing has to play in the lives of 700,000 Kiwis. A New Zealand Marine Research Foundation report in 2016 found that recreational fishing brings over $1.7 billion to the economy each year and supports over 8,000 full-time jobs. I’d want to be remembered as the Minister who finally acknowledged that recreational and commercial fishing had equal seats around the fisheries management table. 6. What does the Quota Management System mean to you? The QMS has put 80% of the quota in the hands of 10 companies. Smaller quota holders sold their rights to the big corporates and became serfs in their own seascapes. Corporates rarely put the needs of the fishery ahead of shareholder profits in their quest to fish for the last dollar. Think of tarakihi and the effect trawling has had on those stocks. We need a more nimble system, able to quickly react to stock trends; and overseen by locals. 7. How would you describe fishing to someone who had never been before? There are several stages in a recreational fisher’s life. First, you just want to catch any fish; then you want to catch lots of fish; followed by lots of big fish; and then you want to catch fish in a challenging, sporting way, using new methods, tackle and techniques – numbers are less important than the ‘quality’ of the catch and the experience. Today, fishing for me is about good food for the table, caught with good friends and family in a wonderful location. It is no longer a numbers game, the experience takes precedence. 8. What impact do you think Covid-19 will have on the way we manage our fisheries both recreationally and commercially? Recreationally, people are likely to spend more time fishing but have less money to spend on things like new tackle and boat fuel. As markets slowly recover, the industry will re-gear to meet demand. It’s going to take a major change of mind-set and overhaul of the QMS if the fishery is going to benefit. Covid-19 has shown we need to move away from a maximum sustainable yield. What farmer constantly runs his stock numbers down to the point where the breed may or may not survive given an unusual set of circumstances such as disease? 9. Do you think the QMS will be able to cope with a post Covid-19 economy or is it a time to look at alternatives? Industry is going to have to work smarter to gain more income from less catch – in other words, add greater value to the product they send offshore. We’ve seen some great examples of commercial fishers catching fish in a more environmentally friendly way such as Karl Warr of Better Fishing, Nate Smith of Gravity Fishing and long-line operator Gavin Perry. When the QMS came in, many of the small fishing towns doted around our coastline lost their local fishers as the quota was snapped up. Now is the perfect time to overhaul this model. The Crown should own the quota, not the corporates. 10. Whilst fishing has been restricted during the Covid-19 lockdown have you done anything fishing related? My boat’s the cleanest it’s ever been, many of my reels serviced and my tackle storage system is undergoing a major overhaul. I have far too many rods and reels, so am going to reduce these by half. I also have way too many game lures – 150 plus – and my inshore lure trays are overflowing so they’re in for a big sort out. There are a couple of knots I want to perfect, and I’ll be preparing a bunch of pre-tied, bagged and labelled traces for future fishing trips. At NZ Fishing Media it’s business as usual. We’ve made our April edition free online for those who missed it. We’ve added heaps of links to additional information and videos. Go to www.nzfishingnews.co.nz to download your free copy. 11. What do you think fishing will be like in New Zealand 100 years from now? In a perfect world, the fishery would be back to virgin biomass. But realistically, if mankind still populates the earth, I’d like to think we’d taken care of the environmental impact on the fishery and restored it to something like 50% of virgin biomass.