A summary of anecdotal evidence of species changes, from “Our Stories: recollections by locals about what the fishing was like in Doubtless Bay/Tokerau”, compiled by Mary Ralph.

Species summary by livingseadoubtlessbay.org.nz June 2011

In the 1850s to 1870s, big yearly shark culls, using Maori customary practices, were common. 7000 sharks were caught in 2 days in Rangaunu Harbour.

Before 1860, 27,000 right whales were counted in the region. In 1925 there were only 25 reproducing females left.

Huge inshore stocks of fish made it easy for Maori to sustain themselves in the early days.

In the 1930s - 1950s there were shoals of snapper, trevally and kahawai up the whole of the East Coast.

“In the old days [in Rangaunu Harbour] the fishing was incredible. Today it is like a desert, no comparison. The sea was boiling with fish, all types of fish, kingfish, schools of kahawai, sharks, dogfish swimming at 100 miles an hour” (Whiti Awarua).


  • Snapper were more abundant before 1960: “There were snapper tails sticking out of the water so thick, Dad shot one” (Richard Matthews).

  • Big snapper were common in the Oruaiti river and were being caught off the SH10 bridge. You could fish off the banks of the river. Snapper came up the river to spawn.

  • Snapper and mullet would swim right up the river around Rangaunu Harbour in the 1960s. You could go any time of day to Rangaunu and catch fish.

  • About 20 years ago there were heaps of snapper on the edge of the mangroves. There used to be snipe, now there are none.

  • In Rangaunu, the sand was white, and the water blue. There were more sandy beaches and less mangroves. There was no run-off.

  • Snapper and hapuka were plentiful at Staffa Rock in Rangaunu. They were devastated by gill netters.

  • Snapper were caught up the Rangatete river in the 1970s.

  • Japanese long liners came in close in the late 1970s and took 780 tons in three weeks.

  • Around Waimahana in the1950s snapper and kingfish were plentiful. They just used a string line. In the 1940s and 50s there was a fishing ground off Hihi where you could get snapper and bluenose.

Koura / Crayfish

In the 1950s at Opeti and Waipuna, crayfish were caught by free-diving. People just went down and got crayfish. In 1960s a local was catching 300lb daily. They were abundant in the 1970s, no need to dive deeper than 30ft. One man caught 16 in 1 hour, in 1978. No crays in the sand any more

Mullet were abundant.

1n 1890 there was a grey mullet canning factory in Unahi.

In the 1950s mullet schools were going right up the Oruaiti River. Netting was done with horses in Waimahana Bay in the 1950s.

One time off Hihi so many mullet were caught there was no freeboard on the dinghy. Mullet spawned up the Oruaiti river.

In the 1980s in Mangonui it took 3 hours to clear a net of 150 mullet. 4 years ago, a set net got 6 mullet.


In Coopers Beach in the 1940s there were paua, kina and pipis in abundance.

Scallop beds in Mill Bay – in the past.

Scallops washing up onto Tokerau Beach in easterlies off beds offshore – 1990s and earlier. Huge cockles off Butler’s Point are not there now.

Off Karikari, in the 1920s it was easy to get lots of paua and kina.

Paua caught around Waiari in 1930s. In the 1950s a Taiwanese Trawler was caught poaching paua – they had taken over two ton.

Toheroa used to be at Aurere & Tokerau beach.

Tuatua: plentiful on Tokerau Beach in 1970s.

Horse mussels (Hururoa) –used to be beds off Tokerau beach.

Mussels: easy to get a feed of at Aurere in the 1970s.


Plentiful in 1950s near Waimahana Bay.

Runs of kingfish drew crowds to Mangonui wharf in 1980s. They were regularly fished off the wharf.


Hapuka were in Doubtless Bay in the past. Good hapuka around the Alberts and the Pinnacles. In the 1950s, you could catch them close to shore in Waimahana Bay and near Wekarua Island.


Kath Johnstone, from Ahipara could get 75lb of whitebait a year in the 1970s.

Turtles were spotted in Rangaunu Harbour & Maitai Bay in 1950s & 1960s.

Subtropical fish were abundant in the 1960s around Maitai Bay, depending on the warm East Australian current: Corus Picta, Australian Morlongs, Corus Victa, Coral shrimps, Black Angel fish.

Doubtless Bay / Mangonui

In the 1970s you could fish for marlin off Doubtless Bay. There were plenty of kahawai, yellow fin tuna, albacore, bonito, inside Fairway reef. Good marlin grounds around the Alberts and the Pinnacles.

Gill nets near the reefs have decimated numbers.

In Doubtless Bay in 1976 you could fish anywhere, anytime. There were large flocks of birds, acres of fish. One fisherman described seeing ‘an acre’ of trevally with their backs out of the water, near Brodies Creek. In 1978, he caught 25 red moki in 1 hour with a spear gun.

You could throw lines of the rocks on Karikari Peninsula and get snapper, kahawai and rock cod. At Tupua Bay, on a king tide, the lagoon would be opened. There was so much fish: it would be dried and salted.

1980s: still big schools of kahawai in the Bay. You could see tails of snapper in the shallows.

The number and size of kahawai, plankton, bird- feeding melees have decreased dramatically and progressively since the mid 1980s. Huge terakihi were caught off Mangonui Heads in the 1950s.

Size of flounder very small now compared to past in Mangonui Harbour.

Mangroves are taking over areas around Hihi that were good for flounder. People used to flounder in the upper Mangonui harbour, which is now too silted up.

In the 1950s, whales were often seen swimming past Wekerua Island.

In the North Ground there were acres of kahawai, trevally and kingfish. You could guarantee a good catch with plenty to spare and give away. Since the 1980s trawlers have targeted favourite spots. You can’t guarantee a feed.


You could sail up to Awanui. Silt and mangroves have made it not possible now. The streams were so pristine there were kokopu and fresh- water crays.

Mullet and shark were common. You could catch up to 140 a night.

Fish were processed at Yovich’s fish factory in Awanui.

1n 1951 there were 10-15 commercial boats fishing out of Awanui for snapper, hand- lining (sometimes 900 hooks with a fish on each hook). Now there are only 2 local boats in the Doubtless Bay area.