In his turn, Phil Smith also wrests a living from the sea, like nearly everyone else. And like many of his countrymen he follows the life of a subsistence farmer, keeping a few goats and hens and a bounteous vegetable garden. An occasional deer provides meat for the table; deer are so plentiful and pestiferous throughout New Zealand that they are fair game and extensively hunted.
STEWART ISLAND fishermen harvest and export “crayfish” (rock lobsters),mouth-watering blue cod, the delicate paua (abalone), and grouper. Phil does none of the above. He comanages the New Zealand Salmon Company’s farm about an hour’s boat trip into the hostile ocean. Salmon farming is a relatively new and growing industry in New Zealand and a good example of the effort to diversify.
“Fishing’s not what it used to be,” he told me as a few other passengers and I boarded his 43-foot launch. “I was happy to go into salmon.” On a dismal, dripping afternoon we donned rain gear, and the old vessel headed into a fractious sea. In one area of the farm, by a bush-covered islet in Big Glory Bay, I counted 28 sea pens in two parallel lines. Gingerly I walked along the slippery causeway between them, curious to see how salmon are grown. Simple enough, I decided, but not easy.
Hardworking sea farmers place king salmon fingerlings in large cages made of netting. They make certain that rotating dispensers toss pelletized food to the fish every five minutes during daylight hours. Invading seaweed requires arduous net changing every two to six weeks. The men put in five days and nights at this, berthed aboard a headquarters ship, followed by five days in port. After 18 to 24 months, when the salmon weigh four to seven pounds, they are harvested. Within 48 hours they go on sale in Japan and western U. S. markets.
As we returned to Stewart Island, the weather suddenly worsened. Adventure lost its appeal for me. Gale-force winds lifted up a high, violent sea and spun a layer of froth that clung just above the blue-black water like a shroud. At the helm, peering through pelting rain, Phil nosed our threshing boat into the troughs of horrendous waves. “She’s smokin’!” he yelled, pointing to the ocean’s eerie blanket. “Those are 60-or 70-knot winds.” Beside me a fellow passenger lurched chalk-faced onto a bunk, wretchedly seasick.
Next day Phil came to the hotel to see me off. Morning wore golden dress. “Not many days we don’t get a spit of rain,” he said, “and not a day when the sun doesn’t break through. Good luck back in New Zealand.”
NEITHER Stewart Islanders nor big city sophisticates are typical New Zealanders. Provincial people are, Prime Minister David Lange informed me. One afternoon in Wellington I called at his office in the executive wing of the government center, named the “Beehive” for its startling conical design. A large man with ready laugh and rapier wit, Mr. Lange seated me across his desk and dashed off an incisive sketch.