“I’ve never done anything else, and I started fishing with my dad when I was three and a half,” Roy told me over the phone. “Just about every boat left these days has a family story behind it.”
This wasn’t news to me. Two years ago, I spent three days on board a Hauraki Gulf commercial cray boat to understand how the ‘other half’ lives. As a keen recreational fisher and editor of New Zealand Fishing News, fisheries management has long been an interest of mine. I’ve always jumped at any chance to see how this often-maligned world truly operates. The experience on the cray boat left a mark and certainly put some of my more binary views to bed. So, when the opportunity came up to learn more about CRA2 – the commercial cray fishing area that extends from Te Arai in the north, through the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty, to East Cape in the south – I quickly said yes.
I first met Roy McIntyre in a Zoom meeting with a few of the Cra2 Rock Lobster Management Company (CRAMAC 2), and with some reluctance (the mark of every humble Kiwi), he agreed to tell me his story. Considering he is one of the founding members of CRAMAC 2 and a lifelong cray fisherman, I was confident he’d have a few yarns worth sharing. As soon as we talked, it became clear that “lifelong” was not an exaggeration.
“My dad started cray fishing here in Whakatane. He was working at the local mill and then started doing cray pots. He built up until he was doing about 30 cray pots out of a little 14ft Augustin – it was 1960 when he started doing that,” Roy explained.
“I started with him as a kid during the school holidays and every weekend. I had other interests in trout fishing and hunting, but I always loved fishing on Dad’s boat, and so did my schoolmates.”
When Roy left school at 16, only one thing was on his agenda.
“I went on to crew for my dad. Although we didn’t kill each other, teenagers and parents shouldn’t work with each other at times. You know how clever you are at 15, and it’s not until you’re 30 that you realise how clever you weren’t,” he laughed.
“I worked for my dad until I was 19 and then bought my own boat. We did a deal with the Ministry of Fisheries in those days – back then you had to have permits, and control over the fisheries was about restricting permits, so they wouldn’t give me a permit to go fishing unless my dad got out of it, so I sort of inherited his permit.”
Left: Roy on his latest vessel - a purpose-built cray boat from the 1980's: Two Cra2 fisherman hard at work in the Hauraki Gulf.
In 1976, Roy started fishing on his first boat – a custom 16ft Fyran, powered with a 40hp Mercury. While you’d be hard-pressed to find many trailer boats pulling pots these days, it was normal in the 70s and 80s before the QMS was introduced. Since then, Roy has had a dozen boats, all increasingly bigger. His current vessel – yes, Roy still pulls pots – is a purpose-built cray boat from the 1980s.
With Roy having been around for so long, I was particularly interested in discovering how the industry had changed over the years. The answer: a lot.
“When I started fishing here, there were six cray fishing boats. In my dad’s day, there were up to 15-16 boats.”
Roy now operates the only cray boat in Whakatane, and it’s been that way for twenty years.
“So, what changed?” was the next obvious question.
“When the quotas came along, the old fellas sold out straight away… They got a pittance for what you’d get nowadays. And mostly, they sold out to the companies.”
“Fishing nowadays is down to economics, and that’s down to the QMS... Some deals are going where operators pay exactly half of whatever they get on the market (to the quota owners) – that’s a huge amount of any fishery.”
QMS is shorthand for the Quota Management System, which governs the NZ commercial fishing industry. To fish for any commercial species, fishermen must obtain quota for that stock. As these stocks can be bought, sold, and traded, larger companies can buy up quota and lease it to smaller operators (the actual fishermen). The oft-quoted and very worrying statistic is that 10 companies now own 78% of all quota in NZ.
“If you got an accountant to look at it, they’d never think fishing was a business. And most species are like that these days… most fisheries are just for lifestyle now. There’s no huge amount to be made,” Roy explained.
“Guys can’t go fishing for stocks that might be there, because it costs too much,” he told me later in our conversation, “and unless you’re an old fart like me who is already set up and been going for fifty years, it’s too hard for young people.”
This led to another self-evident question: why do it? Again, there was a simple answer. Roy and so many other families in the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty still fish because they love it.
“The joy I get from fishing is catching fish – it’s really cool. The hope a guy has every weekend when he goes snapper fishing, I have that every day on my boat,” Roy said (very enthusiastically).
“I still tell people nowadays that I’ve never done a day’s work in my life. Because that’s what it’s like – you can never have so much fun as you can going fishing every day.”
While Roy may profess to do no ‘work’, he certainly hasn’t been opposed to putting in the hard yards. He was one of the founding members of CRAMAC2 and has worked his patch in Whakatane for 45-odd years. As can be expected, he’s gotten to know the area pretty well – which is a common trend in CRA2.
“There’s no use having two or three boats in one area – there’s no sense in that – so you end up having people who, like myself, have fished the same area their whole lives… You end up with a sense of responsibility. Although you can never own the open ocean, you certainly feel ownership for it, and that’s a good thing as it makes you feel responsible for what’s going on out there.”
Roy with his 2 year old grandaughter quinn.
So, what’s next for Roy?
His daughter has been crewing with him for five years and can now run the boat alone. The family business doesn’t look like stopping any time soon, and from what I could gather from talking to Roy, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be slowing down anytime either.
- Ethan Neville