Blue cod out there - somewhere

Last updated 06:50 23/12/2013
Mark Baxter
Kat Duggan

Mark Baxter with a barracuda

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Express reporter Kat Duggan joined six other people on a Sounds Connection fishing trip in the Queen Charlotte Sound on Friday morning. 

A fishing charter to celebrate the opening of the blue cod season didn't quite go as expected on Friday, as the Sounds delicacy proved elusive.

But skipper and long-time fisherman Mark Baxter, co-owner of Sounds Connection, says that doesn't mean the cod aren't there.

Raring to go, we headed out past Blumine Island, but had little luck there, catching only small cod.

Two stops later we returned home with only three legal-sized blue cod, after catching one carpet shark, a conger eel, two barracudas, a terakihi, a sea perch and quite a few under-sized cod.

Mr Baxter said the unlucky trip shouldn't be taken as a sign the cod weren't there; it was just the nature of the job.

"I thought I would blow you away today," he said, "I would never have headed to the first spot if I didn't think there was going to be fish."

Many "good-sized fish" had been caught and released on fishing charters in the weeks leading up to the season opening, and fish stocks were looking good, he said.

Sounds Connection staff looked forward to the blue cod season each year; the 2008 blue cod fishing ban that came into force in 2008 caused a 75 per cent drop in revenue from the charter boat side of the business.

Mr Baxter said before the ban, they operated a regular daily fishing trip. Now, the boat only goes out when chartered. Pre-ban, they were doing about 320 trips a year - now, that figure has dropped to a little more than a 100.

"We had to change what we did, otherwise we wouldn't be in business."

Outside the season, Mr Baxter said he avoided Tory Channel, where blue cod was most common.

"[Other than cod], you get similar to what we got today - barracouta, tarakihi, sea perch, gurnard - but it's pretty hard, there's not much else," he said.

He thought there were ways of conserving the blue cod population that the ministry and researchers were overlooking.

"I'm into conservation, I think it's good, but I think we are doing it wrong," he said.

"Give the fisherman more power . . . us guys on the shop floor that do it every day."

A maximum size limit made sense, he said, so the cod could still breed, but the rules needed adjusting around smaller fish, as well as the amount taken.

"One man, like me, I should be able to get enough fish to feed my family, and two isn't enough."

The blue cod fishery was closed in the Sounds in 2008 after results of an eight-year survey by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research showed a substantial decline in the population.

New rules that came into force in April 2011 allow the fishery to be opened for recreational purposes from December 20 to August 31.

Regulations include a limit of two blue cod per angler, no more than two hooks per line and a take-size restriction of 30-35cm. The cod must remain whole or gutted while being transported on the water to enable the size to be checked. 

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- The Marlborough Express

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