When you’ve been chasing lobster for more than 70 years, you’d think every trick in the book had been well and truly learnt. But for the Scott family from New Zealand, embracing the world’s latest fish finding equipment has recently revolutionised the way they fish. And now all three current generations of lobster fishermen in the family swear by their WASSP Multibeam sounder.
Blake Scott first started chasing lobster (called crayfish, crays or bugs in New Zealand) commercially in the 1960’s from the remote southern NZ port of Riverton.
“Initially I was diving for them, but I pretty quickly found out how hard that was on the body. That lasted two years, before I decided to go potting for crays.” Blake has spent a lifetime on the ocean potting for crayfish, free diving for paua, and even chasing lucrative bluefin. “That hit from the big northern bluefin that we used to chase around the Hoki boats of Greymouth... that’s one of the most exciting thing I’ve done in my fishing career.”
Blake considers himself one of those rare breed of fishermen who are always looking for a way to fish differently. “I was one of the first people to go to a colour sounder when they first came in. Everyone else still had paper or black and white, but we had a colour screen and it revolutionized how we fished.”
His son Daniel learnt the art of potting for lobster from his father, seeing how rewarding it can be, but also how risky. “While I was growing up I saw Dad lose a few boats. The conditions down south are extreme and can turn on you so quickly. You can’t take anything for granted in that part of the world. At times you are fishing hard in on the coast and the swells can be massive.”
A move North saw Dan enter the commercial fishing world himself, chasing dogfish and flounder in the warmer northern waters of the Firth of Thames for around twenty years. He then got back to his roots chasing lobster out of the Tairua in the North Island, before deciding finally to fish from his home grounds out of Riverton on his boat the Mystify - a 55 ft Conquest out of Australia.
“After twenty years up on the Thames coast, there was no thinking involved. It was just hard yards and hard on the body. Crayfishing is easier on the body, but you are always thinking. It makes you feel more alive. The conditions are about 30 times rougher down south, so you have to be on your game and it takes a lot of getting used to. The swells are so much wider and so much higher. It is a place you don’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Having only recently gone back into the family trade of crayfishing, Daniel still terms himself a learner. “I had a traditional sounder but I soon realised it would probably take me thirty years to remember exactly where I was on all the structure I was fishing. I didn’t know exactly where I was on the sea bottom most of the time.”
That all changed when Daniel installed a WASSP Multibeam WMB-3230 sounder with 160khz transducer.
“In crayfishing the biggest thing is learning the foul, remembering every bit of it. Now with my WASSP I know exactly where I am. I have a 3D picture stored of everywhere I fish, and I have built it up very quickly due to WASSP’s wide viewing span. If I am in 3 fathoms I can see 6 fathoms from port to starboard. If I’m in 20 fathoms I can see 60 fathoms along the swath. I can always remember exactly where the crayfish are. I can see sandy gutters that weave their way through reefs, and place all my pots exactly where I know the crays will be. If I bring a pot up loaded with crayfish I know exactly where on the reef it was, and build up that knowledge base visually of the types of structure where the crayfish are holding on.”
“Where it might normally take me a minute to set a pot, it is taking me two seconds. I drive right to where I know I should be setting and drop it, instead of zig zagging to make sure I am in the right spot. With a sounder I might end up pushing the pot over hoping I was in the right spot, but with a WASSP I know I’m in the right spot”
“It has literally saved me thousand of hours of time. Every day I get the job done two hours quicker because of WASSP. The job is getting done faster and I am learning the fishery faster. ”
There are big benefits Daniel says from a safety point of view – “You can definitely fish in a lot harder with a WASSP. Before I had the area mapped it took me three times longer to get into the foul, I was really conscious of hitting the bricks, but once it is mapped with WASSP you have complete confidence, I can drive right through a set of bricks at 15 knots chuck it in reverse and drop my pot, and drive straight back out.”
WASSP is playing a big part in a third generation of the Scott family - Daniel’s son Jayden is getting into commercial fishing too. “I definitely want my son to follow through just like I did with my father. There's a really good future in it, the fishery down south is really healthy and they look after it a lot more. In the old days it was unhealthy, they’d work every day of the year and there was a lot of risk involved.”
“My son is 17 years old, and it is hard to teach a young fella too much,” Daniel laughs “He doesn’t think a lot!” But with WASSP Daniel has the confidence to leave Mystify in Daniel’s hands “I can jump in bed when I have a headache and leave him in charge. I wouldn’t do that with a conventional sounder. If he lost the edge he wouldn’t know where he was, whereas with WASSP he knows exactly where he is the whole time.”
WASSP Dealer and Service Engineer Mike Finnegan who first installed Daniel’s WASSP says “WASSP has quite simply revolutionized the world of crayfishing. A lot of good fisherman have built up a 3D model in their head of what their seabed looks like , but WASSP does an infinitely better job than what anyone can do in their head. So many of my customers are finding new productive structure they never new even existed.”
Daniel jokes that Mike has to be on call for him and his peers, as if his WASSP breaks down he won’t go fishing. “A lot of the older guys have got it just because they have a bit of spare cash and want to look like they have the latest kit. But then if it breaks down they won’t go fishing, they become completely reliant on it. I do the same thing, I couldn’t fish without my WASSP now.”
Daniel says many older generation fisherman have seen just how fast he has learnt the fishery and are becoming interested in WASSP. “They can see how fast I am getting things done... they’re coming and looking and asking more questions”.
“I’ve talked to people that have used sounders for 30 to 40 years and when they’ve put the WASSP on and they’ve found new areas of bottom hardness just outside the foul they never knew were there.”
REFLECTIONS ON THE FIORDLAND FISHERY
Daniel says the fishery down south is very healthy compared to what he found up North. “On a good day we will be pulling up 50-60 crays in a pot... from that we will keep the best couple of crays and put the rest back. “
“Our average price per kilo as a result is a lot higher; we’re getting $114kg down south compared to $74kg in the North Island". But the real bonus is working fewer days and putting less pressure on the fishery. “I was doing 7 months a year, 7 days a week up North to get our 6-tonne. Down there, I’ve got 14-tonne of quota to fish for and get it done in 50 days, and if I kept everything we’d have it done in 20 days.”
REFLECTIONS ON WASSP MULTIBEAM
“My advice to anyone looking at WASSP would be to just buy one – especially if you’re going to be a learner. My father looked at his sounder his whole life and he knew where he was going, but it took him twenty years to have the same understanding I’ve got in a year, and I still don’t think he would have been as accurate as what the WASSP is. Why do ten years of learning when you can get ahead in your first year!”