Inshore Commercial Fishing in Tauranga Harbour

May 2015

Brian Kiddie has a licence to catch fish using a hand-pulled drag-net

Brian Kiddie is a commercial fisherman based in Tauranga. He fishes in the harbour using a technique known as drag netting or beach seining.

Brian is a mechanic by trade, but took over his father’s fishing business in 1991. Don is now in his 80’s and still comes out fishing with him from time to time. Brian also has a deckhand, Daniel, working for him.

His boat was partly built by Don in 1972. It’s a 10 metre boat called ‘Kotuku 1’ and was purpose-built for long lining and beach seining. 

When Brian goes fishing in Tauranga Harbour all he takes is a net, a length of rope and a lot of muscle. The fishing technique is called beach seining or drag netting and Brian and his father are among the last commercial fishermen in the country with a permit to catch fish this way.

The Kiddie family has been in the Bay of Plenty for over 100 years.   Since the late 1920’s, they’ve been launching their boats at Pilot Bay close to Mt Maunganui, but from March through to November the Kiddies are still allowed to set their nets in the harbour.

Brian says they tend to treat their fishing spots a bit like the way farmers treat their paddocks – never grazing too long or too hard in the same place.

Brian says timing is crucial for a successful catch. They have to wait until slack water before they set their nets – put it out too early or too late and the tide will drag the gear out to sea.

Once the net is in the water, the men run a kilometre-long rope or “warp” from the net in a semicircle back to the beach or sandbank. They need a sandbar or bank to stand on, with a channel that’s deep enough for the fish to come into.

Then the hard work starts. Once the rope is in the water they’ve got to start hauling on it. “We just have to keep working this rope down. Just herding it.” Brian says it is a bit like the way farmers herd lambs at docking with scrim or mobs of sheep with the dog. He says the fish are driven by movement in the water.

Rules governing this type of fishing mean that Brian and his crew cannot use mechanical winches and must haul the rope by hand.   And once the haul starts there’s no stopping for a breather. Brian says it is the movement of the rope that herds the fish toward the net.

Beach seining is tough but it has its pluses. There’s virtually no bycatch and the trevally that end up in the net is top quality. Brian says his Auckland customers love what he and his crew can provide. He believes there’s only one other fisher in the country that is using this method. He lands the nets on the banks and then kills the trevally with a spike to the brain. They are then put in an ice box and he drives them to Auckland fish markets.

Back in the 90’s, pressure was brought on the Kiddies about the impact they were having on fish supplies. Out of that came several restrictions on what they can now do.

Nowadays the harbour is closed to commercial fishing from early December, giving free reign to the recreational boaties that flood into the Bay of Plenty during the summer months.

The largest impact on Brian’s business was the ‘grandfather clause’ on the permits. Brian says that what this means is that there’s now an expiry date as far as fishing in the harbour goes. “Basically when I go, that’s the end of this fishery – she’s all over. Just ends with me.” None of his three sons will be able to take over the business.   The grandfather clause was introduced by the then Ministry of Fisheries (now Ministry for Primary Industries) in the 1990’s, amid concern about the status of the fish stocks in the harbour.

He believes the fish stock is healthy and that their fishing is sustainable but has had to accept that their right to fish stops with him.