WE ALL LOVE A GOOD FISHING STORY, and if one place can lay claim to being the fishing mecca of Aotearoa, then our money is on one of our remotest island groups. Way out west in the Roaring Forties, the Chatham Islands has a truly great fishing story, and it’s one the locals are keen to protect. Fishing has been integral to the Chatham Islands ever since Moriori arrived, but it wasn’t until the sealers and whalers came that it became an industry. In the 1960s crayfish was the catch of the day, with nearly 200 boats working there, but in recent years there has been a marked broadening in the variety of seafood being harvested from the archipelago as Kiwis come to value all the ocean has to offer. And though tourism is of growing importance, fishing remains the mainstay of the island’s economy, with the local blue cod, abalone, lobster and kina being particular favourites with seafood lovers.
There’s good reason for this. While many places claim to have great fishing – and that is undoubtedly true – the Chathams can also rightly claim to have really great fish. As Delwyn Tuanui of the Chatham Island Food Co says, there’s actual science behind this. “The location of the islands on the edge of the Chatham rise creates a nutrient rich mix of food where the cold currents from the south and the warm currents from the north mix. This results in a sort of food mecca for the fish species around the islands. They grow bigger and fatter and that extra fat is like marbling in beef, enhancing the flavour and taste experience.”
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Just as the industry has broadened, so too has there been an increased emphasis on sustainability. Surrounded by so much ocean, it would be tempting for the locals to think that there will always be plenty of fish in the sea, but the reality is that Chatham Islanders are keenly aware of the need to fish responsibly. “Ensuring that our fish stocks are strong and healthy goes hand in hand with the economic and cultural well being of the islands,” says Delwyn Tuanui, and it is a sentiment echoed by Michelle Cherrington from Moana New Zealand, the largest Māori-owned fisheries company in New Zealand: “Our local contract fishers on Chathams are respectful and proud of their community and their environment,” he says, “which mirrors the values we hold true to our company of manaakitanga (looking after people our way), kaitiakitanga (being custodians for our future generations), and whakatipuranga (prosperity for future generations). We have a deep sense of responsibility and respect for our kaimoana, honouring the taonga we have been entrusted with.”