Diving in May for a cheeky Cray.

Saturdays don’t get much better than the one NZ produced in early May. The sun was out, the sea was flat and the beer was cold! Huru Adventurer Roos and I, decided to make the most of it and throw the wetsuits on and try our luck.

It was early May and a spell of cold southerlies earlier in the week had dusted the Seaward Kaikoura Range with blanket of white snow. The late Autumn sun was trying its very best to melt away the snow but lacking in any sort of strength I think we all knew the snow was probably here to stay.

Being a bluebird day, not a cloud in the sky, the surroundings were spectacular. Strangely though, Roos and I were not drawn to the mountains, but the stunning coastline and what might lie beneath the surface of the ocean.

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Snow capping the Seaward Kaikoura Range!

Suiting up we were excited to get in the water even though the ocean was still a bit cloudy. The thing about diving around Kaikoura is the fact that there is always something new to experience. A new reef to discover, a new crayfish ledge, a new field of butterfish. Each dive is uniquely different no matter how successful.

With wetsuits on we headed to our launching spot and cleared our masks. I jumped in, getting fired up as I submerged myself in the cold Autumn water. Roos soon followed and we turned and headed out to our dive spot. The water wasn’t as clear as we hoped, although the sea was calm it hadn’t quite settled yet and there was plenty of sand and sediment floating about in the currents.

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NZ turning it on!

Upon reaching our dive spot the currents around the rocks were relatively strong, and finding fish to shoot with the speargun was tough going. The usual spots that harbour good numbers of fish were practically empty. A few smaller fish here and there but the bigger fish, I assumed, must be just beyond the visibility the ocean was offering. After half an hour of snooping around it was evident that the focus of the dive needed to switch from shooting fish to hunting for crayfish.

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Wettie kevlar dive gloves, essential for catching Kaikoura crayfish!

Even though the visibility was only a couple of metres, it was enough to dive down the sides of rocky structures, scouring for cracks and ledges that crayfish love. It wasn’t long before we found a likely looking spot and the searching began. Equalising my ears on the way down I was stoked to see the edge I was diving down led to a decent overhang that had a few crayfish taking shelter. I got into a decent position and went for a grab and easily grabbed the crayfish. A little too easy I thought, and sure enough upon turning the crayfish over it was a female in berry. Carrying all the eggs under their tail makes them slower and generally they are found in easier to reach places. Because of their vulnerability and being in a crucial stage of their spawning cycle, there is a strict no take policy enforced by fisheries management.

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Turning the crayfish over to check gender

Diving down a couple more structures I found a few more crayfish all with the same outcome. It’s just that time of year. When the crayfish are in berry there’r really nothing you can do. As divers, it’s in our best interest to leave them alone as they are playing a vital role in the regeneration of future crayfish stocks. This dive was looking like it would end quite unsuccessfully but I couldn’t resist one more attempt to find a legal crayfish.

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The stunning colours and patterns of our crayfish in NZ

In the end persistence paid off. I changed tactics a bit and at the next hole that had a 5-6 crayfish tucked in, I went to grab the crayfish chilling at the back. My thinking being this may be a buck crayfish enjoying the companionship of multiple females in berry. After grabbing the cray and turning it over I was stoked to see it wasn’t full of eggs. It was however a female and not a buck. Being the first legal crayfish seen all day it was destined for the catch bag and later on the table!

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Crayfish pizza… YUM!

After measuring the crayfish to be double sure of its legality, I left Roos in charge of clipping its telson fin. In the Kaikoura region it is compulsory that all recreationally caught crayfish have their telson fins clipped before coming ashore. This measure is put in place to help the Ministry of Fisheries in their goal of strangling the black market sales of NZ crayfish. The point being that if a crayfish has a clipped telson in a restaurant then they have obviously been bought on the black market and not through correct commercial procedures. It also suggests that if you are a recreational diver and are caught with crayfish that haven’t been clipped, then you could be supplying the black market. It makes perfect sense and I believe the rule should and hopefully will be, applied nationally.

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Roos with a tasty Kaikoura Crayfish!

With Roos still using her summer wetsuit in May I was conscious about not letting her get too cold. With dinner sorted we both headed back to shore to warm up. It was a slow swim back as I couldn’t help myself diving down and exploring more ground. More crayfish were seen but due to how far out in the open they were sitting, and how close they were letting me get without moving, it was obvious they were carrying eggs.

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Back at the truck we towelled down and put the crayfish on ice. It was such a beautiful day we decided we would have a cheeky drink on the way home to celebrate.

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Celebrating with a brown Powerade.

Looking back it was just one of those Saturday’s that just got better and better. The opportunities that NZ offers is world class and for the majority of people all these options are literally right on their doorstep. No need to pack a suitcase just make a plan hop in the car and explore!

Huru,

B.

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