From working with Hollywood studios to mentoring the fishermen of today, Richard and Jean Kibblewhite have contributed positively to the industry for decades.

“It's a great industry”, Richard Kibblewhite says, sitting at the cabin table and looking out of the window of his vessel stationed in Picton Harbour.

“We've been in it for 35 years. It's looked after us very well.

“We support the mussel industry with screw anchors, we are a main South Island screw anchor company, so, most of the anchors holding the mussel farms at the moment have been put in by N Viro, the company we purchased.

“It’s a really cool business."

“We also really enjoy doing our own thing,” Jean says, “the autonomy”.

Indeed, the family has many tales to tell, from being involved with 17 vessels a day in Auckland for a movie shoot, to overcoming the adversity of a sunken vessel.

Throughout the highs and lows, however, Richard’s passion for the job is clear to see.

Although once a mechanic by trade, he confesses to always having a love of fishing and diving, and this came to the fore early on in life, thanks to his in-laws.

After marrying Jean in his 20s, his wife’s brother, also named Richard, was pearl diving in Australia, returning to visit every Christmas.

“He said come over, I'll give you a job,” Richard recalls, “so we did, and we both did four years pearl diving”.

The move proved to be a lucrative one and, having saved quite a lot of money, they decided to return to New Zealand to have a family and go fishing.

“We got in pretty early, in about 1989, before the price of quota went crazy. We bought some paua quota and paua dived for 29 years.”

This adventure led the Kibblewhites on to cray and wet fishing, which they still do today.

“We've sold the paua business to one of the guys that started with me at 18,” Richard adds, “so we don't have it anymore, but it's in our group”.

Are there ever days when Richard wakes up and thinks “I just can’t be bothered”?

Far from it, he replies, there’s five boats and always something that needs doing.

Richard adds he likes his work, simply stating “I enjoy what I do”, and it’s easy to see why.

“[It’s exciting] crossing bars. Getting off your trailer if you're launching through a beach surf. Launching off the beach, like I've done the past 25 years, and through the surf, your heart thumps every day.

“The launching every day gives you enough excitement. You don't need [anything else when you're] getting back onto the trailer with waves coming.”

Dee, son Jackson’s Collie, happily paces up and down the cabin, and settles under the table with her chin resting on Richard’s lap.

It’s a role, the Kibblewhites add, that’s attractive for many New Zealanders and one that he actively encourages young people to join through the opportunities their company, Splashzone, offers.

"It's work that Kiwis love. It's really about the hunting and gathering. For those who love [that], there is no better job.

"Every day is different. You never know what you're going to catch, you expect to know but you don't know until the end of the day. The weather's never the same one day to the next.

"You meet a lot of people, go to different ports.

“Good Kiwi people are good workers, and strong… people that just get the job done.

“All our people earn reasonable money.”

In addition, there’s a specific kind of kiwi that’s built for the sea, they say.

“[It’s not for those] who just want to do a job for two weeks.

“I chase people who are 'all I want to do is go to sea - I want to be fishermen forever'.

“They don't ask questions like 'I've got a party on the 21st, can I be home?', they don't ask questions about that. I'll say ‘just keep texting me every week, if you're keen, if you really want a job’.

“Some do and some do it for three weeks and then they fall off - they found another job, not fishing.

“We've got no cell phone range [out at sea] sometimes. People that have issues with that don't last.”

It’s not for the faint of heart though, Richard warns, as it’s not only your physical health that needs to be on top form.

“It's a hard game. You can't have people that are at sea and having issues going on at home, because you've got too much danger going on.

“When the net goes out and there’s 50 tonnes of boat going the other way, if you're not thinking - you're in the net and gone and goodbye.

“You have to have people that are focused.”

The Kibblewhites empower those who are keen to join the industry by running a traineeship and contributing financially to the cost of the tickets. Some 14 people have come up the ranks, they explain, who started as young as 16 and are now 40-year-old skippers.

“Henry, Tom, Sam, Jackson, Ellen, Adam, Tim, Mike, Duncan, Ben, Paul, Marc, and Bo are some of the good men and women who have worked with us through the years,” Richard says.

“I’m a big believer in helping those that help themselves.”

Even for those a little rough around the edges, Richard says he's still been able to pave out a success story for a few. One fledgling young seafarer, he explains, managed to "pull it together" after a series of serious mishaps "and I got him a job on a buddy's boat, he's doing really well".

"He's going get this skipper’s ticket, and that's great."

However, no man is an island, as they say, and the Kibblewhites are active in the wider community.  

“We go to the Federation conferences and meet fishermen all over the country that give you a little bit of advice, here and there.

“One guy, Alan Rooney, he told me how to ling fish. I'd never ling fished until he told me how to do it. I caught more ling than I'd seen in my life.

“Old guys are pretty generous with their knowledge.”

The Kibblewhites are active members of the Federation, and it’s where Richard does the auctioneering every year for the Shipwreck Relief Society, raising money for the loved ones of those lost at sea.

In 2021, the Kibblewhites were deservedly recognised for their work and awarded with a Seafood Star Award for Longstanding Service.

It’s an accolade, the Kibblewhites say, that wasn’t sought but still very warmly received.

“We don’t feel like we’ve been in it that long, time goes by so quickly,” Jean says.

“Before you know it, you’re the grey-haired ones in the room.

“We don’t feel like we’ve done enough, in some ways.”

“It's lovely to be recognised,” Richard adds.

“We've put 30 years in New Zealand, five in Australia, so that's pretty cool.

“It's not something we chase or put a hand up for. We just do our thing, and we love doing it.

“That's enough for us.”

The husband-and-wife team talk about almost everything, Richard says. Together, they have the perfect skillset, Jean is the strategic one, running the remote office. The whole family, including children Jackson, Elllie, and Sam have all been involved in the family business.

As the end of the year approaches, the Kibblewhites are looking forward to a well-earned rest.

The holiday season sees large family get-togethers on the Kibblewhites farm in the Hawkes Bay.

However, what does a fishing family feast on at Christmas? With a home-made ceviche, Jean explains. Any white fish, as long as it’s fresh and heavily salted, muddled with coconut milk, lemongrass, red onion, and limes.

There’s plenty of deer on the farm, so there’s always some hanging up in the chiller, Richard explains. Dee has been trained to point deer and is no doubt earning her keep during the summer months.

There’s also grouper, glazed hams, pāua steaks on the barbeque, and, of course, plenty of crayfish.