Zane Smith first went commercial pāua diving in 1988. Thirty-three years on, he says Pau5B’s evolution has been remarkable.
“I’m a 13th generation Rakiuran and all my forefathers and mothers were fisherman,” Smith says. “My father was amongst the first to start harvesting pāua commercially. Stocks were so plentiful back then that they could wade out in the shallows and collect pāua in their gummies.”
Smith began diving for quota in ‘88 with Helen Cave’s two sons – the owner of the island’s fish factory.
“It wasn’t until I bought my first boat in ’96 that the fishery bottomed out,” he says. “Stocks were pretty grim but I was fortunate enough to be among the few
divers to hold my own.
“Things certainly changed between those generations.”
Smith says data collection became a large part of Pau5B’s recovery phase, with he and his crew among the first to use data loggers in New Zealand fisheries.
“We opted to wear data loggers on our dive gear before electronic reporting was even law,” Smith says. “We didn’t have to collect that data, but we did it for the good of the fishery. The loggers recorded water temperature, dive time, location and catch per unit effort. We really were leading the way.
“This new generation of divers are now reaping the benefits. It’s a much more abundant fishery than a few decades ago.”
Today, Smith catches a healthy eight tonne of pāua off Stewart Island’s coast for Ngai Tahu.
“We are doing more and more IQF product than just five years ago and that’s led to more live product too,” he says. “Eighty percent of what I catch these days is live export.”
The larger size of Stewart Island pāua have become well suited to the latest wave of market demand that seeks 500g pāua or bigger too – although Smith stresses the importance of divers educating that market on the impact of size-specific demand.
It’s an exciting time to be in the industry, says Smith.
“I have been doing this since 1988. I’ve seen where the fishery has been and where it is now. To be a part of how it’s evolved, to be supplying those market shifts and to have safeguarded the fishery for future generations...it’s really quite satisfying.”