Fish netting like a novice
March 30, 2016

by Jennifer Parker

There I was, up to my elbows in a bucket of live fish, desperately trying to catch one and measure it in the name of conservation. This was one of many lifetime firsts for me as I helped the NVT with their quarterly fish netting surveys in the beautiful Nature’s Valley Lagoon. 

As so often seems to be the case with our conservation activities, we had to be up, out and raring to go inordinately early. We began by jumping into canoes and paddling out to collect the previous night’s fyke nets. Thankfully, there was only a shrimp in my net, which by some miracle I managed to keep alive!

Our next task was the main event; casting out the nets to scoop up our first fish sample. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I hung well back and let the real experts do the hard work, while I, er, “documented’ the event with my camera. I like to think the part I played was essential.

With our first sample securely captured, we slowly transferred them into buckets. This makes catching and measuring them a whole lot easier. Well, I say that, it’s still pretty tough, especially when you’ve never done it before. I soon realised that my initial technique of randomly plunging my hands in and grabbing wildly was not the most effective. It takes some skill, patience and care to catch a frisky mullet!

Once you’ve got the fish in your hand though, then what? Measuring the fish also requires a lot of skill, especially as I was trying to do it as quickly as possible without causing too much stress. Luckily I was shown a technique that covered both, and I like to think that by the end of our first sample, I almost knew what I was doing.

With our first sample done and all the little fishies back where they belonged, you’d think we could relax a little, slow down, perhaps even catch some rays (of sunshine, not the fishy kind). Wishful thinking; we still had 5 more sites! 2 more were in the bottom reaches of the estuary, but for the final 3 we had to head further up the estuary in kayaks. It wasn’t far, but our Team GB kayak was not the swiftest and definitely boasted the sorest arms by the end.

There were larger fish in this part of the river system, including some pretty big stumpnose (or snubnose as I kept mistakenly calling them until being kindly corrected). This is where all decorum went out the window and there was no way to avoid getting wet.

The boys seemed ready to wind down by the time we hit the last site as they stood around chatting. Of course, girls were working hard to keep things going.

By the end of the day, we were soaking wet, hungry, tired, but accomplished. We counted over 1,200 fish in total including 4 Blackhand sole (my favourite) over 500 mullet and 1 mystery fish. The survey is a great way to assess the health of the river and estuary and I felt honoured to be a part of it. I can now also add a new skill to my CV: Fish grappling, measurement and release.

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