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At 22, Chase Saunders-Loder became one of the youngest fishing boat Skippers with his particular ticket in New Zealand.

Salt of the Ocean

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Chris Carey

 Making a career from fishing wasn’t something Chase Saunders-Loder had initially contemplated.

 “I’d go out in the holidays scalloping and doing oysters with Grant Roberts on the Okarito and Chris West on the Rongatea II but they were just holiday jobs back then and loads of fun.” In a phone conversation Roberts

 told me it was clear from the start that whatever Chase chose to do he would be successful at it. Roberts hadn’t had anyone on the boat before that really knew nothing yet showed real initiative.

 Simple things like picking up a deckhose and hosing down instead of just standing round looking lost or awaiting instructions. Very refreshing.

 Finishing high school Chase still couldn’t make up his mind what he wanted to do but the sea was calling.

 “I’d got my UE (University Entrance) but I didn’t want to go to Uni and rack up a big debt with nothing to show for it; well, nothing that would help me find a job or worse still, find out after three years that it’s not really what you wanted to do.”

 Chase had done a few trips with Andrew ‘Milly’ Ivory and Blair ‘Slim’ Alderson on the Resolution II and ‘quite liked it’ so when Richard Pollock offered Chase a job, any thoughts of furthering his tertiary education flew out the window.

 “I was 18 when I started as a Deckhand and I got my ‘deckies’ ticket as soon as I could. I wasn’t at Uni but decided that gaining qualifications in anything I did was important so getting the seatime and taking each of the steps up had to happen as quickly as it could.

 I did my Offshore Watchkeepers next and then intended to do my Offshore Master’s but the timing of Seacert meant that I had to go to school for longer and do my SFV Limited. I took the quickest road to the top because I didn’t want to work on deck for 20 years and then decide I wanted to be a Skipper. I just felt that it would be too late by then.” How much do you think those trips in your school holidays influenced you?

 “Quite a bit when I think about it. I guess some might get put off when they first go out but Grant and Chris were good to work for so that made it enjoyable.”

 “The [Cook] Strait is a tough place to work” Chris West told me. “You worked the weather so there were long days, 16, 18 hours standing at the tray sorting shell. If Chase felt tired he never showed it, no whinging or whining or asking when are we going in? If anything could break a young fella that type of work will but Chase just stuck at it.”

 Doug Saunders-Loder is well respected throughout the NewZealand fishing industry and has been with Talley’s Group Limited for 29 years so I asked Chase had there been any pressure from Dad?

 “No, not really. Dad wasn’t fazed about me going fishing but once I did he’s always encouraged me especially when it came to tickets and climbing up the ladder rather than staying down on deck and cruising.”

 At 22, Chase became one of the youngest fishing boat Skippers with his particular ticket in New Zealand.

 “I share the Skipper’s role with Milly on a two on, two off roster and its good getting a handle on how he does things. You just can’t beat experience like that. I’m really enjoying the work now and with more time off I find I’m enjoying coming back to sea. When I was a deckhand working long hours, week on, week off I didn’t have the same motivation to come back. We’ve got four crew and we’ve had a few issues lately so I’ve been down on deck for the past two trips and I’ll probably end up doing another week down there ‘till we get it sorted. The first two or three days is a bit of a sweat out because you’re not conditioned to the work like stacking bins and all that. And your hands; they get soft driving so the old gloves just chew them up.”

 It’s a common theme throughout the industry; where have all the good crew gone? so I asked Chase about it.

 “We’ve been pretty fortunate but I know getting reliable crew can be a big issue around the country. I don’t think many young people want to get wet and cold and that. It pays well if you knuckle down and get amongst it but I don’t think that’s very well known.

 There’s nothing stopping anyone from really going places but you’ve got to understand that you have to work for it.

 You have to want to do it I guess. Dad always told me that there’s no such thing as a free lunch!”

 The Resolution II carries 1400 bins under the hatch, about 35/40 tonnes depending on the species. A trip out of Timaru is around four days duration, and on ‘The Coast’ about six or seven days.

 “We’ll work about four months out of Timaru doing cod, elephants, tarakihi and other inshore fish then we’ll head around to ‘The Coast’ for the hoki which usually lasts about four or five weeks.

 We don’t fish the Cook Strait anymore.

 The fish sizes are too mixed, too variable with a lot of small males. The fish in the ‘Trench’ are unreal; big fish and because there’s not as much it’s more of line and length of tow than just dipping in and out targeting marks. We used to try and fill up in one shot and bugger off but now we’ll do it in two or three tows; grab a ten tonner and get it straight down the freezer and we’ll shoot away while the boys put it away until the next one comes up. Catch sensors have really improved our understanding of what we have in the net and smaller bags have resulted in much better “quality fish.”

 Finished with hoki, Milly, Chase and the Reso II will spend the next five, six months ‘wet fishing’ on ‘The Coast’ before spending the last two months leading up to Christmas out of Nelson across the straits to Kapiti and West Coast of the North Island and across to the top of Farewell Spit.

 Inshore fishing is really good wherever we go. Down here it’s been pretty consistent for the past five years and we’ve never had any real issues catching our quota. You see certain trends with different stocks but generally things are really good. It feels good fishing against a plan that is supported by a sustainable system like the QMS.

 You feel confident about the future.

 Some areas are obviously better than others; the Tasman Bay snapper fishery is just getting better and better. We don’t fish much there ourselves so it’s not a real problem for us but talking to the boys that do, it seems sad that they are avoiding other fish because of the snapper by-catch? That just doesn’t seem right?

 With no ambitions to move out to the ‘deep water’, Chase sees his future entrenched in the inshore, however owning his own boat might be a distant reality?

 “I want to move up to something the size and power of the ‘Ocean Pioneer’.

 That’s the next step for me so I’ll look to keep up with more tickets. As for owning my own boat; the idea of being your own boss sounds great but I’m certainly not ready for that step just yet. Need to get a bit more time at the wheel before that looks like an option?

 Besides quota is just too expensive to buy so unless you own it now I guess you’ll always be working for someone who has it and that will clearly dictate the future for people like me.” Doug is a proud dad. “Milly told me that Chase has got everything he wants by working for it and setting a benchmark for others to follow and while I have certainly encouraged him, he’s the one that’s done the hard graft.

 I remember one piece of advice I gave him; if I saw him in a pub, a restaurant or a shop in white gumboots, I’d kick his arse! Be proud of what you do but that doesn’t mean that you can’t finish your job, freshen up, dress tidily and then go and have a beer or a meal in a civilised fashion. Don’t let me see you in gumboots or with your jeans down around your arse! I think he got the message!”

 Chase concludes, “There’s nothing like seeing a good bag come up  behind the boat. I enjoy the whole fishing thing, working out where and when to go to find the fish especially if they’re playing hard to get. It’s that real hunter- gatherer thing going on and the satisfaction is in getting what you’re after. The weather can wear you out but when others are in bed I get to see some of the most amazing sunrises or sunsets and cool things like dolphins and whales. It’s about being in the great outdoors and having the freedom to make choices and it also helps that the money’s not bad either.”

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