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Episode 9: Taste of the Sea

Moeraki Village, pic by Julian O'Brien

May 7 on TV ONE:

Taste of the Sea

Blue cod is seen by many New Zealanders as a special delicacy - but it's a challenge to catch.

Blue cod is sought after by many South Island recreational fishers.  Because it's a bottom-dweller, it's usually caught by hand line from a boat, with the hook kept close to the seabed.  But to catch them in numbers, commercial fishers like Martin and his crew use pots, usually baited with squid, which they leave in the water for just a few hours. They fillet their catch immediately, before returning to port.  Filleting cod is an art in itself - Martin's crewmen, John James and Noel Connor, say it's much easier to do when the fish are straight out of the water.

One of the problems with selling blue cod from North Otago is the distance to market.  But Martin, who's based in the small port of Moeraki, has found a customer close to home - the Moeraki Boulders restaurant buys everything he can catch.

Chef and owner Scott Johnston says the area is famous for blue cod, which is at its best when eaten fresh, and most of his customers choose it ahead of other fish. While Martin's delighted to have found an outlet so close to his boat, Scott says he's just as lucky to have a regular supply of fresh fish in the restaurant. Martin says the resource is under pressure - over the years the fish have become smaller and harder to catch.  He says it's not an easy issue to solve because recreational fishers take a significant amount of the resource, and catching blue cod is such a strong local tradition that no-one wants to give it up.  He's also diversified into catching crayfish, but they, too, are a challenge - most crays migrate south before they reach a marketable size.  Crays first tagged in North Otago have turned up in Fiordland, after an 800 kilometre journey round the bottom of Stewart Island.

Martin says the more options he has for his boat, the better his chance of economic survival. With that in mind, his latest venture is catching bladder kelp. In storms, it breaks away from its roots on the sea bed.  Left alone, it'll end up on the beach - but not if Martin and his crew get to it first.  The kelp is showing promise as an ideal sustainable resource, with a growth rate of up to a metre a day.  Although the industry is in its infancy, the product is already proving popular with some farmers for stock-feed, pasture improvement and as a natural animal health remedy.  More work is being done on the kelp to see if it can be used as a human health supplement.

Martin also skippers recreational charters for groups of fishermen, usually for a weekend with accommodation provided at Moeraki.  The aim is for everyone to catch a variety of fish, including the most popular species - groper and blue cod.

Moeraki used to be a thriving fishing port, but most of the commercial boats have now gone. Martin says although fish of all kinds aren't as plentiful as in the past, there's still a living to be made - but only if but you seize every opportunity you can find.

For more about Martin's fishing charters,

For more aobut blue cod,

Country Calendar credits - 2011 episode 9, 'Taste of the Sea'

Richard Williams

Field sound
John Patrick

Offline editor
Brent Whitwell

Online editor
Alex Wright

Sound mixer
Ian Leslie

Sound editor
Don Paulin

Vivienne Jeffs

Network executive
Jude Callen

Consultant producer
Frank Torley

Associate producer
Dan Henry

Production manager
Robyn Best

Julian O'Brien