NZ book prompts Lyttelton man's new career

Books can entertain, inspire and inform but a Lyttelton man’s monthly read led to a change of career.

David Peers, who’s part of a seven-member all male book group with BDS, was prompted to become a Fisheries Observer after reading Michael Field’s The Catch.

I was reading about the role of observers, which was described in the book,” says David. “I was quite intrigued and thought ‘gosh I could do that’, so the very next day I went across to the Ministry of Primary Industries premises near the Christchurch airport. The woman there had been a Fisheries Observer so she was able to tell me all about it.”

After a “rigorous application” process with the ministry, the former English teacher of nearly 30 years retrained at the Nelson Institute of Technology. Straight after that, in early 2018, David boarded a Russian-staffed trawler for two months.

“For one month I had a trainer with me and then he left and I was solo for another month,’ he says.

The primary role of a Fisheries Observer is to independently assess the catch of New Zealand flagged fishing vessels. Observers live aboard the vessel, sometimes for up to months at a time. Duties include gathering bio-samples for scientists (so they can estimate the levels of fish stock); monitoring protected species, such as sea birds and sea mammals; and checking a vessel’s on-board ‘mitigation’ equipment. This equipment is designed to prevent the capture of species other than fish.

“Once you are out there [at sea], it’s 24-7 work,” says David. “With the orange roughy fisheries, I observe every haul; I have to juggle my observing around my required rest periods. It's far from an eight-to-five job.”

However, David’s new profession is flexible enough to allow him to work only 3 or 4 months a year – a far cry from his fulltime teaching in New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong.

On his most recent marine assignment, David set out from Bluff aboard a family-owned vessel. It was “a third or fourth generation family boat” with only three crew. The trip afforded him regularly sightings of albatross and fantastic anchorages.

“A lot of people disparage Bluff and Invercargill …but you can go east to the Catlins, south to Stewart Island or west to Preservation Inlet and Fiordland. It’s a kind of paradise.”

On another voyage, David got to experience Russian cooking and culture. At Dunedin’s port he boarded a large, joint-venture [New Zealand registered] trawler operated by a crew of more than 80 Russians.

When not working aboard New Zealand flagged fishing vessels, David lives in Lyttelton with his partner Jackie. They spend quite a bit of time on their yacht ‘Brigadoon’, a double masted steel yawl with an interesting history.

“It was quite famous: the Mr Asia gang [heroin smugglers] used it for a drug run back in the 70s,” he laughs.

David enjoys his new job, which provides him with an outdoor lifestyle and a role in helping maintain New Zealand's fisheries. Although his book group initially teased him that he would end up as shark bait, so far he has found the fishing crews friendly and co-operative in relation to his duties. 

"The whole point of the quota system is about guardianship and stewardship, by keeping the catch within sustainable levels. It's a very positive thing to be involved in,” he says.

He says many of the problems that author Field highlighted in The Catch – such as the exploitation of Asian and Eastern European seaman - have been addressed since the publication of the book in 2014.

New Zealand book The Catch prompted Lyttelton man David Peers to become a Fisheries Observer

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Scheme is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations in Aotearoa New Zealand
BDS is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations