UNDER the shadow of Mauao, Brian Kiddie is a master in patience.
With only a net, a length of rope and ready biceps, he hauls in a shoal of silver trevally watched on by daytime joggers and tourists.
At 54, Kiddie knows his time on the water practising what's known as beach seining or drag netting, is limited.
He has a 'grandfather clause' on his permit, meaning there's an expiry date as far as fishing in Tauranga Harbour goes.
"Basically when I go, that's the end of this fishery – she's all over," he says. "I do look at the future and think: 'The end is not that far away'."
None of his three sons (aged 14, 18 and 20) will be able to carry on fishing in the harbour - a tradition started by his great-grandfather.
The grandfather clause was introduced by the then Ministry of Fisheries (now Ministry for Primary Industries) in the 1990s, amid concern about the status of the fish stocks in the harbour.
"The price of trevally was quite high and it was almost a little bit of a gold rush," Kiddie explains. "People were chasing it and the public pressure on the fishing in the harbour became upsetting."
Originally there were eight Tauranga permit holders under the grandfather clause, but now there are only two, with the Kiddies most active. The other permit holder - also a local family - do some beach seining, but they don't target trevally.
The only other place beach seining is permitted in New Zealand is in Whangarei Harbour, but to the best of Kiddie's knowledge, there's no one working the area.
"There is the odd person who has a go, but really, I'm the last one doing it as part of a stable income."
"There is the odd person who has a go, but really, I'm the last one doing it as part of a stable income."
The reason he says is both access and economics.
"The price of fish hasn't gone up. What Dad was getting in the late-1970s and 80s was probably twice what we're getting now. One of my surviving benefits I suppose is owning (an individual) quota."
He says the introduction of mandatory electronic reporting and subsequent associated costs hasn't helped some small operations.
Beach seining was taught to him by his father Don, having been passed down by Don's father, George, and his father William, "Bill".
He spent his boyhood summers swimming with netted fish in Tauranga Harbour as they zig-zagged around him.
Beach seining works by setting nets in slack water and then running a kilometre-long rope from the net in a semicircle back to the beach or sandbank.
Kiddie and his deckhand Cheryl Lowe then need a bank to stand on with a channel that's deep enough for the fish to come into.
Then the physical work begins.
Once the rope is in the water, they start hauling on it to "herd" in the fish who are driven by the movement of the rope. They have about an hour to do this before the tide turns and threatens to wash their gear out to sea.
"All we're catching is what is willing to lay in the channels at low-tide," Kiddie explains.
Rules governing this type of fishing means they cannot use mechanical winches and must haul the rope by hand. And once the haul begins there's no rest. Kiddie, a man who wears Stubbies in winter, operates the harbour like he would a farm – never over-grazing in one place.
He's happy to wave onlookers into the water to show them what he's doing and some will get "stuck in" and lend a hand.
"A lot of access is usually cut off in communities where a vessel is offloading, or operation is happening. I'll take a bin of fish and lay the various varieties we've got out on the wharf and let mum and the kids have a good look."
He enjoys passing on his knowledge and has visited high schools in the Waikato to allow students to get up close and personal with fishy characters at an information session.
He's also been recognised for his efforts to minimise the risk to seabirds from his fishing operations, as a highly-commended finalist in the Seabird Smart awards in 2012 - meeting Prince Charles at Government House.
He is on the executive committee of the New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen; and currently working on a long-term project with the Department of Conservation to develop an effective underwater fishing line deployment device, which takes the line below where seabirds can't get to it.
Deckhand Lowe, of Pāpāmoa, says the Kiddie family's passion for fishing is contagious. "It's a pretty awesome job," she grins.
"You're out on the water, you've got the sunrises most mornings… Brian's a pretty cruisy boss and a good teacher."
A new generation of salty fishermen
A mechanic by trade, Kiddie took over his father Don's fishing business in 1991.
Don's ailing health means he hasn't been out on the water this year.
Their 10m blue boat Kotuku 1 was partly built by Don, a former cabinet maker, deer-culler and possum trapper in 1972, purpose-built for beach seining and long lining, which they do when they're not working in the harbour.
In the early days, Don would drive his nets from his house to the beach on a tractor. Wife Eileen, who passed away last year after a short battle with cancer, would be on-call to deliver ice to the wharf when the fish came in. It's always been a family affair.
The Kiddies had another son, Glen, who died of brain cancer at 25 and the loss forged an even tighter bond between Don and Brian. They've enjoyed a mutual interest in speedway, jet boating and white baiting over the years, as well as fishing trips with Kiddie's sons, friends, and neighbours.
With their speciality beach seining, there is virtually no bycatch.
The nets are landed on dry banks and then the trevally is killed with a spike to the brain before being put in an icebox. Most of the Kiddie's haul goes through Moana New Zealand, the largest Māori-owned fisheries company. Some ends up in the domestic market and the rest is exported.
Back in the 1990s, the pressure was brought on the Kiddies about the impact they were having on fish supplies in Tauranga Harbour and at Katikati. Out of that came several restrictions on what they can now do - including no night fishing, no weekend fishing and no fishing on public holidays. The harbour is also closed to commercial fishing from December 13 until March 1, giving free rein to recreational boaties.
Furthermore, a memorandum of understanding was set up with the Ministry of Primary Industries and the five hapu of Matakana and Rangiwaea Islands after the Kiddies appeared on a 2014 episode of TV's Country Calendar called Last of the Line , which sparked heated debate.
"There were areas (of the harbour) that they felt were a bit sensitive that we now stay away from. There have been changes in our access," Kiddie says.
One of Rangiwaea Island's 15 permanent residents and local kaitiaki, Brendon Taingahue, says there was concern over possible overfishing.
"The fact that you can come into the harbour and catch fish regularly right throughout the year is testament to the habitat of the Tauranga Harbour." But it needs to be nurtured, he says.
"There's so much pressure on the harbour that we need to support the system, not just keep taking, taking, taking. The hapū's perspective of things is about feeding our kids and our kids' kids for the next 50 to 100 years. At this rate, with this development of Tauranga as a whole, I think it's going to put huge pressure on marine ecology."
The Memorandum of Understanding helped each party understand each other's perspective, he says.
"The fact that Brian and his dad have actually refined their fishing technique to allow the bigger fish, not the smaller fish, and only fish at certain times of the year to not hinder the next generation of species, is a testament to the guys and that they're really committed to sustainability. We've grown a really great friendship and relationship - something that wasn't like that at the start. I have the utmost respect for him and what he does."
"The fact that Brian and his dad have actually refined their fishing technique to allow the bigger fish, not the smaller fish, and only fish at certain times of the year to not hinder the next generation of species, is a testament to the guys and that they're really committed to sustainability."
A keen diver, Kiddie believes fish stocks have improved, but he's noticed the health of the harbour deteriorate due to climate change, nearby development and dredging. Lettuce weed also plays part in fishing access, he notes.
And as the Bay's population mushrooms, recreational fishermen are starting to have an impact too.
"With the advent of better sounders and especially GPS, it's opened up a whole ocean. What used to be someone's little secret place years ago, now you can virtually buy the marks," he says.
"The recreational snapper catch in the North Island, particularly in this area, has virtually exceeded the commercial catch."
The Kiddies specifically target trevally in the harbour but share that appetite with bronze whaler sharks. More than once they've had a cheeky, big bronzie pop up beside their knees and tear the back out of their net.
"It's a fishery that can throw quite unusual catches through tidal cycles and changes. That's part of our long-term knowledge as to what the movements are and a lot of that knowledge will die with us."
All good things must come to an end
THE end of the line plays on Kiddie's mind - as does his get-up-and-go.
"My health appears to be good, but then mum's was too. Am I going to be feeling healthy and strong enough by the time I'm in my 60s or will I be like my father - fully active in his 80s?"
Even now, Don, who wears a Moana New Zealand beanie, and drinks out of a Deadliest Catch coffee mug - pads out to his museum-like garage in Mount
Maunganui and cuts up the bait.
At night, he attempts to tie his assortment of hooks and traces from his armchair, but now suffering from Parkinson's disease, he says his fingers won't always let him.
In the earlier days, he cleverly designed and made his own bait cutting machines, longlines and clips, and all the tooling required. Don's had "one or two exciting times" in rough seas and loved it all.
"It's as much about family pride," Kiddie says.
"Just as people have pride in a farm that their parents have developed, I've got pride in what my father and mother have put together.
"The way Māori view it is that it's been a traditional food source and for our family, it has been as well; then as a living. That's gone down through the generations.
"I enjoy it, and I'd like to see my kids get some enjoyment out of it - even if it's just to work with their dad on the water."
That inevitable last fish in the harbour and subsequent end of an era will be sad says Don, but they accept their fate.
"That feeling is always there - even though we know it's coming."