While the industry veterans are feeling the cold and hanging up their wetsuits, the new generation is appreciating the opportunities brought about by their predecessors.
Third generational pāua diver Storm Le Quesne has been diving since he was 16 and says the fishery is thriving.
“My stepdad Rastus was a pāua diver, my uncle Gary Skinner was a pāua diver and both my dad and grandfather Bruce Skinner were pāua divers too,” Le Quesne says. “Without them looking after this resource, this young generation of divers wouldn’t have the successful fishery that exists today.”
Le Quesne says it isn’t just the catch that is better than just a few decades ago, it’s the quality, the market and the attitudes of the divers.
“The quality of the fish is near close to what is was prior to the fishery’s decline. The technology has evolved – better wetsuits, better gear – and the divers are all onboard with
proactive fisheries management.
“You can go out to some dive spots around the island now where you’ll hardly have to measure the pāua. They’re that big.”
With consumer trends shifting and markets evolving, it’s an exciting time to be a part of the industry. Canned and processed abalone continue to constitute a good proportion of the market demand, while demand for natural, fresh and wild product is on the rise as consumers embrace a greener era.
Le Quesne and the crew on Dwayne Herbert’s boat Southern Leader are the largest harvesters of live pāua, leading the market change.
“We catch about 50 tonnes of pāua a year and at least 50 percent of that is now live export. It’s pretty cool to see such a dramatic shift in the market and to think I’m a part of that.”
The domestic market has evolved too, growing a modest amount of demand for Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) product when traditionally there was little domestic demand for pāua. Quality has become increasingly important, Le Quesne says.
“Consumers expect the best. Not just the best quality, but that their fish are handled with care. We take extra care removing pāua off the rocks so as not to damage them, then they’re placed in holding pots to keep them live until they’re ready for export.”
The Southern Leader team also use specially designed bins, with slats for the pāua to stick to so the fish aren’t overcrowded or crammed together.
“It’s a real change from my grandad’s harvesting days when they would shuck the pāua themselves and store them until they were processed – usually canned,” Le Quesne says. “Now we export them whole, shell and all, in pristine condition.
“The whole fishery, from reef to plate, has become a pedestal example of what’s possible when everyone works collectively. The fishery is thriving, the market is stable and adapting. Everyone is winning – both the fishery and the fishermen.”