Covertly stalking poachers under cover of night and high speed vehicle chases across farmland were all part of the job for former fisheries officer Duncan Chisholm, of Mangawhai.
Duncan has collaborated with Whangarei author Don Armitage to compile a book of real life accounts from the 1970s to present day in True Tales of New Zealand Fisheries Officers.
He says it was quite a job tracking down officers he hadn’t spoken to since the 80s to contribute their tales. Back then, the job was like something out of a fiction novel.
“We had patrol boats, specialised vehicles to get to remote locations, worked with the Air Force and Navy, and we chased down real life characters. It was a lot of responsibility but it was exciting,” Duncan says.
One of his favourite stories is about a Taiwanese commercial vessel, the Kin Nan, caught illegally fishing off New Plymouth in 1976. It was found two nautical miles within New Zealand’s fishing zone.
The HMNZS Taupo instructed the Kim Nan’s skipper over loud hailer that he was under arrest, but the vessel made a run for international waters. The Taupo fired its guns off the bow of the Kin Nan but the warning went unheeded.
An intention to fire on the vessel was sent by radio to Wellington. This was met by a response by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon himself – “NO. REPEAT. NO.”
Then, two RNZAF Skyhawk fighter planes flew in and shot 53 rounds of cannon fire, turning the sea around the Kin Nan into a boiling cauldron. The skipper got the message and the arrest was made.
Duncan says Kawau Island was a hot spot for poachers as the waters were known to be plentiful with juvenile fish in spring. In an incident in 1980, he and his crew tried to intercept a Danish seine fishing vessel in rough conditions near Kawau.
It was nearly dark when officers Ian Walker and Roger Mita attempted to board the vessel while it pitched and rolled in the swell. Ian stood on the bow of a six-foot fibre glass patrol boat while Roger attempted to hold it steady alongside the much larger steel trawler.
Ian timed a jump with a wave and caught the rail of the fishing boat. Dangling off the side, he clambered his way on board while Roger slammed into reverse, narrowly avoiding crushing his partner.
Ian promptly entered the skipper’s cabin and used the vessel’s own radar and chart to determine it was fishing 1.2 miles within the restricted zone.
“Boardings such as this had an important role in our dealings with amateur and commercial fishermen. They gave us enormous credibility that our seamanship was up to the mark – we weren’t office boys,” Duncan recalls.
Several of the stories in the book involve dalliances with danger. On one occasion, the patrol boat Tokatea was on its way to catch a vessel off Waiheke that had taken hundreds of scallops. Officer Steve Whitehouse went ahead of the Tokatea in a tin boat and boarded the offending vessel.
He announced his intention to conduct a search but was violently attacked by the fishermen, who attempted to throw him overboard. As Steve clung to the rails for his life, the skipper throttled the engines to make an escape. However, the vessel caught on her anchor and lurched, sending the assailants flying across the deck. The Tokatea then came
into the bay and by then the fisherman knew the game was up.
The newly published book includes more than 100 stories from locations across the Hauraki Gulf and Kaipara Harbour. Duncan hopes to have it retailed in Warkworth, but during lockdown a copy can be purchased for $40 by emailing Duncan at email@example.com.