Chapter Seven — A fisherman's tale
A fisherman's tale
To talk of the fishing of New Zealand is to cause anglers of other lands to conjure up visions of big trout in big rivers and monster fishes of the sea.
— T. E. Donne
The acclimatisation of freshwater fish is remarkable among all the importations of animals into New Zealand in that it was an enterprise marked with cooperation and dedication, with no bitterness over the effect on other game or on native wildlife. Everyone saw a benefit and everyone worked towards the common goal of freshwater streams and lakes stocked with piscine beauties. Such friendliness is even more remarkable when it is understood that the mood of cooperation extended even to dealings with New Zealand's neighbours on the other side of the Tasman Sea.
It was as early as 1841 when the first Australasian enquired about the possibility of stocking the waters of the new lands with trout and salmon. A Captain Fred Chalmers of Van Diemen's Land wrote to Dr MacKenzie, of Ross-shire, asking about salmon fry for Tasmania. The good doctor was willing, but no-one could think of a way of transporting fish, fry or ova right across the globe, so the matter was shelved. But it was not forgotten. In 1848, a Mr James Barnett, a surveyor, was visiting Scotland, and he had a long talk with Sir W. Denison about the possibility of carrying ova to Tasmania. The knight was also willing, and as a result a consignment of salmon and trout ova was shipped on board the Columbus in 1852. The failure of the experiment could not have been more complete: not an egg survived the journey. The venture had cost £300, but the participants were not discouraged, saying that at least they had learned something: that the ova must be kept cool at all times.
In 1860 the idea of importing freshwater fish was raised in both Houses of Parliament in Tasmania, resulting in the creation of the Tasmanian Salmon Commission. This body decided that a representative should be appointed in the home country to look after the matter there, and Mr (later Sir) James Youl was given the job.
Mr Youl decided that the main prerequisite was a ship that was fast enough to complete the journey from London to Hobart before the ova went bad. But Hobart was not an important port, which made it very difficult to find the skipper of a fast ship who would consent to call there. In the end, after much persistence, he came up with three possibilities. The first was a fast sailing ship, the Zealander, which offered to call in at Hobart on the way to New Zealand, at a cost of £750. The second was an iron steamer which was being sent to New Zealand for the coastal trade. This ship, the Beautiful Star, was not going out by steam, but was sailing to New Zealand under jury-rigged masts, to be fitted out there. The ship Percy also offered to call in at Hobart with ova, but as the company wanted £1 500—an enormous sum—to do the job, it was not seriously considered.
The choice fell on the Beautiful Star, which turned out to be a disastrous selection. Donne wrote, after travelling on this craft, 'She was a small, narrow boat, full of activity in a heavy sea, and pitched and rolled in an extraordinarily unpleasant manner. She would sit on her stern-and waggle herself, then try to stand on her head and waggle more; vibrating until one's teeth played like castenets. Four or five months of this frollicking was enough to kill a man, let alone ova or fry.'
Ignorant of the sailing characteristics of this unbeautiful vessel, Mr Youl, aided by Mr Robert Ramsbottom, famous in Britain for his artificial propagation of salmon, loaded the ova. The ova were placed in trays filled with gravel, and a stream of fresh water flowed over the trays, cooled with ice from the ice-house. Mr Ramsbottom's son, William, was put in charge. The poor fellow didn't know what he was in for.
The Beautiful Star sailed from London on the 4th March 1862 with 50 000 salmon ova on board. It got as far as the Margate Roads, and then lay at anchor for three days because of bad weather. The ova began dying right from the start as they were swished back and forth with the tossing of the vessel. On the 8th the ship set out again, and had nearly reached the Isle of Wight when it had to turn back because of gale-force winds. It waited until the 12th, with more ova dying every day. On the 13th the ship set out again, but a couple of days later it lost a propellor plug and had to turn back to the Scilly Isles. The ship finally managed to quit Britain on the 24th, twenty days after it had set out, having lost 2 500 ova before the voyage had even properly commenced.
Enormous storms then presented themselves, so poor William had to rush around covering the trays with blankets against flung spray and bilge water, in between bouts of cleaning out dead ova. The weather improved, but too much so—William was kept busy clearing out ova that had died of heat. In his Report of May 7, he wrote, 'From the 17th April to this day, nothing of importance has occurred. Weather fine but hot, causing much trouble to keep down the temperature of the water. The ice cannot last much longer,' he added with resignation.
A happy angler—Mr Syd Hart with the brown trout he landed on the north bank of Lake Waitaki. He took the fish into the office of the Senior Field Officer, and there was general consternation, as all the scales were too small to weigh the fish. However a phone call to a Kurow store manager solved the problem, and the trout weighed in on his platform scales at 161/2 pounds.
The Tasmanian Government was by no means displeased as they felt that they had learned much from the experience. The Tasmanian Salmon Commissioners reported that 'profiting by the important lesson derived from the history of the little box of salmon ova embedded in moss, we have resolved to send William Ramsbottom to England in order that he might assist in ascertaining from actual experiment for what periods the salmon ova packed in moss and deposited in some of the ice vaults in England might be kept in an undeveloped state and afterwards hatched into living fish.'
William Ramsbottom arrived back in England in December 1862, and he and Mr Youl immediately began a series of experiments designed to chill ova so that hatching into fry could be retarded. They found that packing into ice was extremely successful, with ova hatching into vigorous fish even after intensive cooling for 144 days. Encouraged, Mr Youl decided to try again, this time using a faster ship. Public interest had been so aroused that a shipping company, Messrs Money Wigram and Sons of Blackwell, offered free passage for the ova on their ship the Norfolk. Mr Youl then designed an ice-house which turned out to weigh 56 tonnes. The shipowners blanched, but stuck to their end of the bargain gamely, even holding up the ship for a day when Mr Youl had trouble packing his consignment of ova. (He had written a letter to The Times asking for help in obtaining these, and such was the general interest that trains from all over England delivered brown trout and salmon ova to the dockyards.)
Brook char. Introduced to Canterbury from New York in 1877, the ova of this fish were hatched in Mr A.M. Johnson's private ponds at Opawa. Johnson and the Canterbury Society distributed many thousands of these fish around the South Island. A large number of releases were made in the River Avon, but few of these were ever seen again.
Youl and his assistants loaded the eggs in trays of charcoal and packed them in with moss and chipped ice. The ship sailed from London on the 21st of January 1864, carrying the faith and hopes of thousands along with its cargo of trout and salmon ova. It made a good passage of 84 days, arriving at Melbourne on the 15th April. The Government there had the steamer Victoria ready, and the local acclimatisation society was there to welcome the Norfolk when she arrived. Everyone trooped on board and ceremoniously opened one of the small boxes: to their collective joy, most of the ova was alive and in good condition. The Melbourne Society retained eleven boxes and the Government steamer took the rest to Hobart. The precious load was then transferred to a barge which was towed by the steamer Emu up the Derwent River to where bands of volunteers were waiting, ready to carry the cases to the fish ponds.
Ninety-one days after leaving London, the ova were placed in the hatching boxes at the fish ponds. About 30 000 eggs were still alive. On the 4th May the first brown trout was hatched, and on the next day, the first salmon. By the 25th there were 300 trout and 700 salmon. At the end of 1865 the surviving salmon were released into the sea.
Of the brown trout, some died, some were liberated, and six pairs reached maturity in the fish ponds. These twelve fish were the ancestors of many of the thousands of brown trout that swarm and spawn in the rivers and streams of Tasmania, Victoria— and New Zealand.
'Hurray! Hurray! We've hooked our fish,' the settlers sang,
'By Jupiter of Ammon;
As sure as ever eggs are eggs,
We'11 hatch colonial salmon.
And here's a health to every man,
The credit rests upon,
The fellows who sent out the eggs,
And those who egged 'em on!'
New Zealand had an early stake in this bonanza. The report of the Tasmanian Salmon Commissioners had included the statement, 'As the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and New Zealand are all more or less interested in this question, they may all be expected to bear a share in the expense of future undertakings; Victoria has already assisted us and a contribution of £200 has been received from New Zealand.'
These financial contributions continued. In 1864 the Canterbury Provincial Government gave the newly formed Canterbury Acclimatisation Society £300, asking the Secretary to forward this sum to the Tasmanian Salmon Commissioners. The Commissioners offered the Society some ova in exchange, in 1866, but the Society put off the consignment until the following year, when their fish ponds and hatching boxes would be completed.
In August 1867 the curator, Mr A. M. Johnson, went to Tasmania and collected 400 trout ova for the Canterbury Society, and 400 more for the Otago Society. Mr page 134 Johnson returned in September, but, because of a long rough voyage, only three of the ova survived to hatch. After hatching the three fry escaped, but two were recaptured. Mr Johnson's account of this experience was a racy and picturesque one. 'A tremendous flood, the highest ever known in Canterbury,' he wrote, 'submerged the Gardens, and ... the three Trout were washed out into a swamp leading to the river, and appeared hopelessly lost. With a faint hope of their recapture, a spawning race was prepared near their rearing home, and at the season two of the lost trout were seen and secured. They proved to be male and female, and from these a supply of ova was obtained annually. By 1876, the Society had received about £100 from the sale of young trout, and many thousands had been liberated in Canterbury rivers; all the progeny of those two fish.'
Mr A. M. Johnson and the introduction of freshwater fish
Mr Johnson, the curator of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society from 1864 to 1875, claimed to have introduced many of the freshwater fish species in New Zealand. Unfortunately he and Mr Farr, the Secretary of the Society from 1870, did not get on very well at all, which has helped to make the records of that time somewhat unreliable.
The story of the first three brown trout in New Zealand—the survivors of the 800 brown trout ova sent from Tasmania in 1867, which were so dramatically flooded out and then a pair recaptured—has accordingly been claimed by some authorities to be untrue. George Ferris, in his book Fly Fishing in New Zealand reports that the 1868 Otago consignment, brought in by Mr Clifford, was the first successful introduction of brown trout. The number of ova in Mr Clifford's shipment was also 800, a circumstance that makes it even more difficult to find out the true facts. At any rate, it can safely be assumed that brown trout were definitely acclimatised in New Zealand waters from 1868.
Mr Johnson did attempt to bring a large variety of fish with him when he migrated to New Zealand from England in 1864, and made many assertions based on this venture. He, and the fish, were carried on the British Empire , but according to G. M. Thomson, the fish died when a careless deckhand dropped a lump of white-lead putty into the tank.
Johnson's shipment included 600 young Atlantic salmon fish, which were fed on snails and water weeds. There were also a number of char, though what sort, he neglected to say. (He did admit that he lost 'nearly all' of these through lead poisoning.) He also claimed that he brought out the first American brook trout, carp, goldfish, Japanese minnows, gudgeon, barbel, bleak, tench, rudd, dace, roach, common minnow and perch. Thomson states that most, if not all, of these fish died on the voyage.
Whatever the facts,.it is evident that Mr Johnson was a dedicated and talented caretaker of fish. When he retired from his position of curator of the Canterbury Society in 1875, he established his own private fish farm and aquarium, and developed a very successful breeding stock from the many types of fish eggs that he imported into New Zealand on his own account.
Brown trout centenary
In the Annual Report of the North Canterbury Acclimatisation Society for 1968, it was stated, 'The 21st September, 1967, was a red-letter day for this Society in that it marked the one hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the very first brown trout ova into New Zealand.'
The Society held a small commemoration service to mark this date, pin-pointing the former site of the Society's ponds, now part of the Botanical Gardens close by the Nurses' Home, and unveiling a bronze plaque set into a concrete base. 'A Centennial stamp,' the Report went on, 'was issued by the Postmaster-General (The Hon. W. J. Scott) during 1967 in commemoration of this important occasion.'
The stamp certainly was issued—a very pretty 71/2 cent one, one of the first commemorative issues in decimal currency. However it is interesting to note that at this late date the controversy over Mr Johnson's brown trout still continued: the Post Office tactfully failed to print 'Centennial Issue' on the stamp face.
In September 1968 Mr G. P. Clifford brought 800 brown trout ova from Tasmania to Dunedin. These hatched well and the fry were distributed around the streams of Southland, often by hand. They were carried in fish kettles: these were like large buckets, which had false bottoms so that the water could be drained out from beneath while fresh water was being added from the top. Carrying the kettles over rough bush roads was an effort which required persistence and dedication. In 1869 and 1870 Mr Clifford brought more ova from Tasmania; these were distributed all over the country, and there was little difficulty in acclimatising the fish as they adapted so well to New Zealand waters.
When brown trout were first liberated they grew to tremendous size, probably because of the abundance of insects at that time. This phenomenon gave the anglers of New Zealand licence to demonstrate powers of imagination that no fisherman of any other country had ever dared display. Part of the 1883 Annual Report of the Otago Society, concerning brown trout, read, 'One taken at Lake Hayes, said to have been 60 pounds in weight; two seen in the Clutha River ... estimated at 80 pounds each by Sergeant McLeod; and one from the Mararoa, which weighed 42 pounds.' The Report added with belated reticence that, 'The above weights must be received with caution.'
No wonder Donne in the introduction to his book Rod Risking in New Zealand Waters wrote, 'My chief qualification for writing this book is . . . the fact that in centuries now remote, one of my ancestors was reputed to be a highly respectable and truthful man!'
The naturalisation of brown trout must rank as one of the most successful works of acclimatisation ever accomplished in New Zealand. The project stocked streams and rivers with a fine sporting fish and gave New Zealand a worldwide reputation as an angler's paradise. In clear-running water full of nourishing food, and having the advantage of being the first imported fish to acclimatise in New Zealand waters, the brown had ample scope for both development and spawning. Indeed, it developed to the extent where New Zealand fishermen could regularly take brown trout weighing 20 pounds. The largest brown trout taken from Lake Rotorua, according to A. J. Iles, is 271/2 pounds; the largest from Lake Taupo 251/2 pounds. According to Thomson's sources, fish of 29 pounds have been taken from Lake Taupo, and in Lake Hawea fish weighing 26 pounds have been taken. Keith Draper records that in 1974 a brown trout weighing 21 pounds 3 ounces was taken by Ralph Waiwai at Lake Whakamarino near Waikaremoana. Double-figure fish are no longer as common, now that there is
Metric and Imperial
As this is an historic record I have used Imperial measurements throughout to keep faith with those fine old fishermen and their astonishing records. For up-to-the-moment readers, here is a table of metric equivalents:
more competition for food—from small birds as well as other fish varieties—but enough heavy fish are caught every season to keep the reputation of the New Zealand brown trout an enviable one in the fishing world.
When once o'er rich pink-meaty fish
Our hungry praise we utter,
And salmon see—Colonial bred,
Swim in colonial butter.
On the 6th February 1868, in reply to a letter enquiring about the possibility of importing salmon ova, the President of the Melbourne Acclimatisation Society wrote to the Central Government in Wellington that he believed a shipment of Atlantic salmon ova for the Provincial Government of Otago was on its way from London to Dunedin. This consignment was on board the Celestial Queen, which had left London in January. It arrived at Port Chalmers with 10 000 salmon ova, on the 4th of May.
The Otago Government sent eleven boxes of this consignment to the Canterbury Society. These arrived on the 6th, and on opening them it was found that only about two hundred eggs were still alive. The ova were cared for with much patience and a lot of ice, but within a month they were all dead.
For half a century efforts to acclimatise salmon continued. Mr Johnson had tried to import some from Britain on the British Empire in 1864, and all the fish had died during the journey. The Otago Society lost most of its ova from the 1868 shipment when its hatching boxes were flooded. About 500 young fry survived, but when they were fifteen months old, and about 0.3 metres long, their caretaker, Mr Dawbin, was sacked. Upset at losing his charges, he offered to work on without pay. The Otago Government insisted he go, so Mr Dawbin made sure that the fish went too, going down to the ponds one night and releasing the young salmon into the river. What happened to the fish is somewhat of a mystery, although one or two anglers reported taking salmon from the Molyneaux River in 1874.
In 1873 the clipper ship Oberon brought 120 000 ova to Port Chalmers. These salmon eggs had been packed by Mr Youl, but many of them died during the voyage. Of the 95 000 consigned to the Southland Acclimatisation Society, 85 000 were dead. The remainder were put in the hatching boxes, but only 300 hatched out. After a year only 96 young fish were alive and these were put in a pond near the Aparima River. Not long afterwards they were swept into the river by a flood and there is no further record of them.
The rest of this shipment was sent to the Canterbury Society, but of the 25 000 allotted only forty or fifty hatched out; by the December of the following year there were only 38 survivors. Mr Johnson tried an experiment with some of these. He thought that if they were acclimatised gradually to salt water, when they spawned they would return to the Avon River. According to the reports of the Canterbury Society, 'A large cage was made, which was anchored in the River Avon a little below Victoria Bridge; in the cage were placed . . . eleven of the largest salmon. They page 138 remained there sixteen days, during which time they throve well.' Then, to increase the salinity of their environment, the cage was floated downstream to where the water was brackish. There, unfortunately for the cause of science and the state of Mr Johnson's reputation, the cage became waterlogged and sank to the bottom, and the fish died. The rest of the salmon were hastily liberated into the Avon at the Madras Street bridge, to find their own environment and acclimatise themselves.
Various other spasmodic attempts to introduce Atlantic salmon to the streams and rivers of New Zealand followed, but there was little reward in the constantly poor results. In the decade between 1868 and 1878 over seven hundred thousand Atlantic salmon ova were sent out from Britain; in 1884 another 198 000 were imported; in 1886 over 200 000; in 1887 over 600 000; in 1889 a similar number. Many of these arrived alive, hatched well and were released. By 1922 nearly five million ova had been received. The streams and rivers of New Zealand should have been bulging with salmon. It is a memorial to both the hopeless tenacity of the importers and their blind optimism that they were not.
In 1908 the Government itself decided to make a determined attempt to acclimatise Atlantic salmon successfully into New Zealand waters. In the April of that year Charles Ayson, the son of Mr L. F. Ayson, Chief Inspector of Fisheries, took 150 000 eggs of the Atlantic salmon from Canada to Lake Te Anau, and of these 140 000 hatched and the fry were released in a creek that runs into the Upukuroro River. The release was very successful, perhaps because the water of the creek comes from pure underground springs. In 1918 the Government followed this exhilarating success by ordering one million salmon ova from Britain. Donne was put in charge.
He wrote first of all to the Government Fisheries Board, London, and then to the Fisheries Board of the Wye. The contract for the collection and packing of the ova was given to the Surrey Trout Farm of Shottermill, Haslemere. The salmon were stripped at the river side and the fertilised ova sent to the hatchery for packing—the carting was a difficult job, as the ova were not to be shaken or rocked about, so the boxes were embedded in cushions of straw. Unfortunately the salmon run was poor that year because of heavy rains, and only 400 000 ova were taken. Both Scotland and Ireland were flooded, so Donne had to negotiate with the Germans for the rest of the ova: they sent him a very inferior lot, taken from the Rhine.
The million eggs were forwarded from London on the 19th January, 1911, on the Ruahine, in the charge of Charles Ayson. The ship arrived in Wellington on the 11th March, with most of the ova in first-class condition. The shipment was sent to Lyttelton on the Mararoa, and then in an insulated railway wagon made the final leg of the journey to Te Anau. Mr L. F. Ayson reported, 'This shipment of Atlantic salmon ova is the largest that has ever come to New Zealand, and it has arrived with the smallest average percentage of loss.'
Because of the efforts of Donne and the Aysons, the biggest population of Atlantic salmon in New Zealand is in the Te Anau area, in the lakes Gunn, Fergus, Te Anau and Manapouri. Fish taken in this area can weigh up to five pounds, but the average is about two pounds. The Wildlife Service of the Department of Internal Affairs has set up a management plan for the fish in Lake Gunn, with the idea of propagating the Atlantic salmon in other parts of New Zealand. Judging by the history of the acclimatisation of this fish, however, it does not appear to be a project likely to be crowned with success.
In May 1910, the German government tried to negotiate with the New Zealand Government for an exchange of one million Atlantic salmon ova from the Rhine, for an equal number of rainbow trout ova from the Hot Lakes district. The New Zealand Government would not hear of this. 'Let the Germans come here if they want to fish for the finest freshwater fish in the world,' they doubtless thought—although the poor quality of the Rhine ova already received may have had a bearing on the decision.
The rainbow trout is the most sought-after trout in the world, because of its fighting qualities and its beautiful chromium-like sheen. It was first introduced into New Zealand waters in 1883, by the Auckland Acclimatisation Society, and quite by accident. The Auckland Society was firmly convinced that it had brought out ova of brook trout, but from the 32 000 eggs, 5 000 young rainbow made their appearance. The Society had purchased the ova from a Mr La Motte, who operated a fish hatchery in California; he had taken them from Sonoma Creek and shipped them to San Francisco, where they were transferred to a ship heading for New Zealand. The Auckland Society kept on referring to the fish as 'brook trout' until 1886, when they admitted that they had unwittingly imported some rainbows. Mr Cheeseman stated in 1915, 'I believe that the whole of the wild stock of rainbow trout in New Zealand has been derived from the Auckland Society's introductions.'
By 1885 the stock of breeding fish in the Auckland Society's ponds at the Domain included brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout—a correctly labelled consignment of these arrived in 1884 from California, but these were bad, so the Society had obtained some more from Mr Johnson in Canterbury—and black-spotted trout from San Francisco. The Society had also released brown trout into rivers in Thames, Hamilton, Tamahere, Raglan, Tuakau, Te Aroha, Waipu, Opotiki, Kawhia—and the virgin waters of Lake Taupo. These trout acclimatised immediately and successfully, as demonstrated by reports of illegal fishing that the Society received with horror. Introductions of rainbow trout followed these liberations—the exact number of liberations is not recorded, but probably exceeds ten million. As well as this, the Auckland Society gave supplies of ova and fry to other acclimatisation societies, with the result that today the rainbow trout is found in most rivers, streams and lakes throughout New Zealand. Fry were carried by back-pack and horse-back, by Land Rover and jet-boat, and even dropped into remote lakes by aircraft.
The success of the trout is legendary. In the Waimarino 200 fry were liberated in a virgin stream, and two years later the average fish taken was three pounds in weight. Some rainbows caught in the Waikato River weighed from seven to eight pounds within four years of liberation. In Lake Alexandrina in the MacKenzie country yearling rainbows were released in 1911: in 1916 three were caught, the largest 17 pounds, and the smallest 14 pounds. From Lake Taupo a male rainbow trout weighing 21 pounds was taken five years after its liberation as a fingerling. According to Iles, the largest rainbow taken out of Lake Taupo weighed 211/2 pounds, while in Lake Hawea fry were liberated in November 1911, and in less than two years rainbows often pounds were being taken in nets along the beaches. A report in the Dunedin Evening Star in August 1913 stated, 'A 13 pound rainbow trout, suicidally trapped at Lake Hawea during ova-stripping, has been sent to the Otago Acclimatisation Society.' This is in dramatic contrast to the growth of the rainbow trout in its native Californian waters, where it runs from one to two pounds in weight.
In the early days of fishing at Rotorua, the members of the Rotorua Rod and Gun Club kept records of their catches, taking it in turns to meet fishing boats and count and weigh the fish. In the first year 6 952 trout were taken, a total of over 14.5 tonnes of fish; in the second year 15 043 trout, weighing 28 tonnes; and in the third year 22 140 trout weighing over 42.5 tonnes. These figures are even more staggering when one considers the number of unrecorded fish that must have been taken as well.
In one season over fifty-six tonnes of trout, both rainbow and brown, were taken with rod and line from the Rotorua district. From the waters of Lake Taupo one man, Mr Shilson, took over 4'/2 tonnes of trout, fishing from his feet, in one season. His stamina must have been remarkable: during the last four weeks of the season, fishing from the Tongariro River, he took 505 fish weighing 4 287 lb. He went home early on one of the days, as he felt rather tired!
56 000 trout were taken in one season from Lake Taupo and its rivers, weighing 112 tonnes. One angler took over a tonne of trout, by himself, in one month. So many trout were caught at that time that fish were given to local farmers for pig-food.
The density of rainbow and brown trout in the Hot Lakes district of the North Island was so great that in 1913 the Government took over the management of the fish, in cooperation with the acclimatisation societies, to avoid their becoming overstocked and the fish therefore deteriorating in condition and size. They knew that this had already happened in the Rotorua and Taupo Lakes, so began trapping and netting fish in order to get the population down to a manageable size.
The quantity of fish taken in this manner was astonishing. In three years over 131 tonnes of rainbows and browns were taken from Lake Rotorua and only slightly less from Lake Taupo; in those three years a total of 213 467 fish were culled from both lakes, weighing a total of 260.5 tonnes. The Government then replenished with new stock, to keep the population healthy, using fry from the Rotorua Hatchery. An expensive programme was set up to catch native shrimps from the Waikato River and place them in the lakes to feed the new fish.
The rainbow trout has been introduced from New Zealand into some tropical islands of the Pacific, with satisfactory results. Donne relates how some rainbow ova were sent to Suva. 'The residents there were not learned in the mysteries of pisiculture and did not know whether fish eggs should be hatched under hens or ducks: information was sent to them by cablegram and the resultant hatching was quite satisfactory.'
Various other trout have been imported into New Zealand, but they have not displayed a fraction of the pleasing performance of the brown and the rainbow. The brook trout is considered a desirable fish, to provide good sport—it is a great fighter—but it has not managed to compete with the rainbow and brown trout for food supplies. If it has the water to itself it does quite well; in Lake Emily in Canterbury brook trout reach weights of over two pounds.
Mr Johnson imported the first shipment of brook trout ova on his own account from New York in 1887 after he ceased his employment with the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society. He bought a few acres of swamp and sand at Opawa, and with hard work and dedication turned this wilderness into a fish hatchery and aquarium. He developed a large breeding stock of brook trout and sold them all over page 141 New Zealand: Mr Johnson also bred goldfish, and sold them through the Society. He was the first person to bring these ornamental fish to New Zealand; a few arrived on the British Empire in 1864.
Thirty thousand ova of Lake Tahoe trout were sent by Thomas Russell to the Auckland Acclimatisation Society in 1878. About 3 000 hatched into fry, but only a thousand survived. Their importation had been recommended by L. F. Ayson, who said that the Lake Tahoe trout runs up to 20 or 30 pounds in Lake Tahoe and other lakes in the Sierra Nevada. However Donne, who fished in the native waters, says that 'this trout attains to 3 or 4 lb; it is not a hard fighter, at least I did not find it so, and "gives in" after a modest struggle and a short run.' In any event, the Society, unaware of the conditions needed by these fish to survive, released them in Lake Waikare, Lake Omapere, and in the Onehunga Springs. After that, according to Society records, nothing further was seen of them.
In 1906 Ayson brought in a case of ova of Mackinaw trout from America. They were hatched by the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society, and 4 000 were liberated in Lakes Pearson and Grassmere. Another lot of 4 000 was taken to the West Coast, but these were all lost at Hokitika because of the curator's carelessness in liberating them in the wrong sort of water. The Mackinaw is a deep-water fish that needs cold temperatures to survive; Lake Pearson seems to be the only place where the trout has acclimatised.
A much more exciting introduction was that of the quinnat salmon. The quinnat is a North American native, and in its home water it is known as the 'chinook'. The Hawkes Bay Society, according to Thomson, was the first to think of introducing this fish into New Zealand. They wrote to Dr Spencer Baird, Chairman of the United States Fishery Commission, and a shipment was dispatched to Napier in 1875. Unfortunately the steamship carrying the ova sailed right past New Zealand and on to Sydney; by the time it had made the trip back across the Tasman the eggs had begun to hatch. To save them the Auckland Society put them in their fish ponds. From the 20 000 ova that arrived, about 10 000 fry were placed in the Waikato and Thames Rivers, 1 450 were sent to the Thames, Wairoa and Tauranga districts, and about one thousand were kept in Auckland. In 1876 another big shipment of ova arrived, some for the Government, some for the Auckland Society, some for the Hawkes Bay Society (paid for by the Hon. J. D. Ormond and William Shrimpton) and some for the Canterbury Society. According to the Hawkes Bay records their fry were placed in streams in the district, with 5 000 going to the Manawatu. Auckland's share was divided between the Domain hatchery, the Mangakahia River, and, at the invitation of the Ngati Maniapoto chief, Rewi, the Puniu River. The Canterbury Society liberated some of their share in the Rakaia, and three years later a member of a shooting party shot a fish. It was about 0.6 metres long and weighed over fifteen pounds. Two thousand five hundred salmon were liberated in the Avon River, and some in the Waimakariri, some in the Ashley, and some were given to the South Canterbury Society to be placed in the Opihi River.
The Government share was sent to Southland, so that in this way the quinnat salmon was liberated throughout the country. It was an almost unqualified success, so encouraging that several more shipments were ordered from California, some by the Government and some by the acclimatisation societies. The Government became page 142 so enthusiastic that in 1900 a hatchery and ponds were built on the Hakataramea River, a tributary of the Waitaki. In January 1901 the first shipment of ova for this Government Salmon Station arrived via the United States Bureau of Fisheries, from their hatchery on the McLeod River in the Sacramento area of California.
The original Hakataramea fish hatchery, 1901. Note the fish kettles on either side of the doorway which were used to carry the fry by hand, often difficult distances over hazardous back-country tracks.
The British Empire
'The British Empire (ship), 2679 tons register, 5000 tons burden,' wrote the editor of the ship's newspaper, the British Empire Gazette, 'is the property of John Murthwaite, shipbuilder, and is, we believe, the largest sailing British ship afloat. She was built in 1851, on the Avon, at Bristol.'
This ship was originally designed to be a steamer. She was launched as such and christened the Demarara , but then suffered a most unfortunate and unusual accident. As she was being dropped downstream her bow swung onto a mudbank and stuck. In the confusion her stern became jammed on the opposite mudbank. The tide went out, and the vessel was stranded, so high in the air that small craft could, and did, sail beneath it.
After some time the ship was manoevred away from her odd anchorage, but the damage to her structure was so pronounced that the owners decided to convert her to a sailing ship. Her name was then changed, but ill-luck continued to dog her. Each voyage she had a different commander, and on each voyage some other calamity overtook her. On one trip, while leaving Port Phillip, she missed her stays, got into difficulties, and had to abandon both anchors and a large amount of cable gear.
In 1864 she was in the hands of Captain Callenan, who had her completely overhauled, and her decks rebuilt to eliminate finally the 'hogged' shape that her original misadventure had bequeathed to her. When she arrived at Lyttelton, on September 6th, 1864, with 33 saloon passengers and 366 immigrants, the Lyttelton Times wrote that she was the largest ship which had ever entered the Harbour, and that she had needed all sorts of help from smaller craft to do so.
Among the passengers were Mr Prince and Mr Johnson. In the ship's newspaper for Saturday July 2, a contributor wrote, somewhat coyly, 'A most melancholy accident occurred yesterday, through the carelessness of Thomas Hynes, servant to Mr C. Prince, which led to the unfortunate and untimely end of poor Jack Daw, who was blown overboard, thus meeting with a watery grave ... We are very sorry to relate,' the article went on, 'that this is only one of the very many serious losses that gentleman has suffered, though his efforts and energy to save those members of the feathered race which he has on board have been increasing . . . His stock of English songsters,' commented the reporter sadly, 'was very good and numerous.'
Mr Johnson received his share of publicity in the August 13 edition of the newspaper, when the editor wrote about the mysterious 'square-built framework' on the quarter deck, and explained that it held fish that, everyone hoped, would stock the 'immense and beautiful rivers' of New Zealand. Mr Johnson had brought on board 'no less than 800 young salmon, 600 trout, 200 perch, and 200 carp, with a fine sprinkling of tench, royal rudd, roach, gudgeon, minnow, bleak and gold-fish', in tanks with 'troops of small snails, water-lilies, and weeds of various kinds,... to afford food as well as to keep the water purified.'
The fish did not thrive. 'A lump of white putty,' reported the paper, 'got into one of the principal tanks, and deprived Mr Johnson of his last chance of success. He still retains a few gold-fish, but all the rest have vanished.' An unlucky ship to the end, the British Empire was eventually wrecked, with many other vessels, in a tidal wave at St Thomas, West Indies.page 144
The British Empire .
In 1906 occurred the first real salmon run on the Waitaki River. During the season of 1915, salmon were caught with rod and line, several weighing up to 25 pounds. In 1916 quinnat weighing up to 20 pounds were caught in the Rakaia, the Waimakariri and Waiau Rivers. In 1922 a salmon weighing forty pounds and over a metre in length was caught at the mouth of the Rakaia. In 1923 the first large run of quinnat took place in the Rakaia, and over a thousand fish were taken there, at an average weight of about 16 pounds. In 1924 a Reverend gentleman, Mr Hawkins, caught a quinnat weighing 42 pounds with a rod and line. He was angling quietly on the banks of Rakaia Island when he suddenly discovered that he was in for an exciting and arduous hour. He had to play the fish for three kilometres downstream before he succeeded in landing it. Two years later another large quinnat weighing 421/2 pounds was caught in Canterbury, on the Rangitata River.
The quinnat can now be counted as a sporting success, well established in east coast rivers and some west coast rivers in the South Island. It is a migratory fish, returning from the sea to spawn, so it is surprising to learn that it is also found in the landlocked lakes of Wakatipu, Wanaka, Hawea, Te Anau, Manapouri, Ianthe and Mapourika. However it does not reach nearly such a great size in these lakes, averaging only about two pounds there. Those quinnat caught coming into rivers from the sea are often double-figure fish. According to Donne, the largest quinnat taken in this way weighed 64 pounds.
The motive of the Government in building the hatchery at Waitaki and importing ova with such enthusiasm, was the development of a fish-canning industry. For this purpose the hatching of ova and replenishment of fish stocks was planned as carefully as the breeding of cattle and sheep. As Donne said plaintively in 1927, 'New Zealand has surely reached the stage when the importation of canned fish should be a matter of history and before long the Dominion ought to be exporting its own canned fish. It certainly does appear to be paradoxical,' he commented, 'that a country so page 145 abundantly endowed with fishes should import large quantities of tinned salmon.' However the salmon did not thrive in sufficient numbers to warrant the setting up of an industry, although a few licences for netting were issued now and then.
Netting, however, was never a profitable business. In 1953 the Waitaki, Waimate, South Canterbury, Ashburton and North Canterbury societies asked the Government to abolish commerical netting for one season on the Waimakariri. The Government agreed, on condition that the societies caught 750 good salmon for public consumption. The societies agreed and carried out two netting operations at the tailrace of the Highbank powerhouse on the Rakaia River. The project was fraught with difficulty because of public opposition to the idea. The netting was done at night; the Electricity Department cooperated by turning the tailrace off, and the rangers used big trawling nets. However the local people turned up as annoyingly as flies, sneaking fish out of the nets and then passing them back through their legs to their companions in the darkness.
In 1957 the South Island Salmon Committee took over the commercialisation of salmon: this committee consisted of one member from each of the five acclimatisation societies in the area, and a representative from the Marine Department. In the 'New Zealand Official Yearbook' for 1981 it is stated that, 'Commercial farming of quinnat salmon has commenced in New Zealand with encouragement from the Government. Government policy emphasises the development of salmon ocean ranching.' The main areas for farming are on the east coasts of the South Island, where the natural stocks of quinnat salmon exist.
The sock-eye salmon was introduced to New Zealand in 1901, sent from Canada to New Zealand via San Francisco. The ova arrived in very bad condition, with only about thirty percent hatching out and a large number of those being deformed fish. Some of the good survivors were liberated in the Waitaki River and Lake Ohau, while the rest were retained in the Government Salmon Station at Waitaki. Charles Ayson, the manager of the hatchery, wrote to Thomson that the fish were being attacked by a fungus. Other sock-eye salmon were occasionally caught or seen, but as an experiment this venture had to be considered a failure.
Another experiment was the introduction of the Common White Fish, which is a species that is plentiful in the Great Lakes of North America and which also occurs in Canada and Alaska. In its native waters this fish reaches double-figure weights quite regularly. In December 1876 a case of 125 000 ova was sent from San Francisco and arrived in Auckland in January 1877. This shipment was divided between Auckland and Canterbury. At Auckland nine fry hatched, but all died except two. At Christchurch about 200 hatched, but all died or escaped except six.
Other attempts to acclimatise the fish followed, all with the same miserable lack of success. In the 1870s, according to Donne, a consignment of white fish ova was sent to Queenstown, with the intention of liberating the eggs in Lake Wakatipu. The cases were landed at Bluff, sent by train to Winton, then by coach to Kingston, and then across Lake Wakatipu by the paddle-steamer Antrim. The day was a beautiful one and extremely hot. Donne was invited to assist the curator in unpacking the boxes, and as it was so hot the water was warm, and the little fish were hatching busily. Donne suggested taking the ova to a cold stream at One Mile Creek near Queenstown, but instead, sticking grimly to the programme, the curator dumped the whole box-load in the shallow waters of the lake. As Donne acidly remarked, the lake at that point was famous for its thirty-pound eels, who must have enjoyed their gourmet supper that night.
Another shipment was later sent to Southland, but the curator opened the case only to discover a vile smell. A successful introduction of white fish was however made by Mr Kerr, the Member for Motueka who made the embarrassing mistake about the Venetian gondolas. He was the owner of Lake Run at Rotoiti, near Nelson, and stocked this little lake with white fish which have since become plentiful. They were also the death of him; he drowned while fishing for white fish in 1898.
So of all the imported species only the rainbow and brown trout have spectacularly succeeded. The future of the quinnat salmon may or may not be full of promise. The Atlantic salmon has been a constant disappointment, and the Mackinaw is found only in the Lake Pearson district. Perch, introduced in 1868 and released in many waters around the country, are common today only in the Otago, Wellington and Taranaki districts, where they do not reach any remarkable size. Brook trout were liberated in many areas, but their habitat is limited because they do not compete successfully with rainbows and browns. Carp were introduced about 1867 and are now found in many waters, especially in the hydro lakes of the Waikato River, but they are poorly regarded as a sporting or food fish.
Other introductions have included tench, which arrived in 1867 and was liberated in many rivers, but which, on the whole, provided nothing but food for trout; catfish, which arrived in 1877 and is still found in Lake Mahinapua and in ponds around Ashburton; and mosquito-fish, or Gambusia, which has been introduced in recent years and is now found in a number of lakes and ponds of the North Island. Gambusia is used in sub-tropical countries as a biological control for mosquitoes—it feeds on mosquito larvae and pupae—but its effect on the mosquito population in New Zealand appears to have gone unstudied.
Donne knew that the acclimatisation of great angling fish would draw sportsmen from all over the world, tempted by the teeming waters of New Zealand, but he could never for one instant have dreamed that in the future busloads of tourists would arrive merely to look at the fish, admiring their steel-like beauty in manicured natural surroundings. Here we see the entrance of a resort at Rotorua which relies on the reputation of New Zealand freshwater fish to attract the curious tourist.
The acclimatisation of the brown and rainbow trout species makes up for the lukewarm performance of all the others. The pioneers who put so much into the introduction of these fish were amply rewarded—in their own lifetimes they could witness the growth of a rainbow and brown trout population that is acknowledged by sportsmen everywhere. The days of enormous bags and double-figure trout may be largely over, but what remains can give even the most critical of anglers a sporting thrill unrivalled anywhere else in the world.
Fish can be noxious too
On the 12th October 1980, nine species of fish were declared noxious pests, in Amendment 16 of the Freshwater Fisheries Regulations 1951. The fish are a variety of scoundrels: the Walking Catfish, European Carp (including Japanese Koi Carp), Pike, Rudd, three species of Piranha, and two species of Tilapia.
Piranha? In New Zealand waters?
Relax. The piranhas are held only at the Napier Aquarium Display and are permanently on exhibition there. Pike and European Carp are not known in New Zealand waters—there are none anywhere in the country, as far as can be discerned. For the past five years or so Koi Carp have been sold as aquarium fish by pet shops. They are known to be present in both Islands, mainly as a garden pond inhabitant, but many farm dam populations do exist. Tilapia species likewise have been sold by pet shops as a tropical fish and exist in home aquaria. Walking fish are presently believed to be held by some private fish fanciers. The Catfish especially can be seen as motivating the change in the Regulations. It is a predatory fish, which if it escaped, could move overland and become a serious threat to our freshwater fishing industry.
Rudd, of course, are widely acclimatised from Hamilton northwards. Any rudd or escaped piranhas or Walking Catfish taken by anglers must be immediately killed. A fine (not exceeding one thousand dollars) may be imposed on persons convicted under the noxious fish Regulation.