We are incredibly lucky in New Zealand to be able to gather our own kaimoana, and one of the best ways to get a tasty feed and have a whole lot of fun is jumping in the water with a mask and snorkel.

I’m very much a casual freediver. Fishing is my primary pursuit, but I like taking to the water for an hour or so to mix things up a bit. My breath hold isn’t great, and I rarely dive deeper than around 8 metres. Hence, I’m more into gathering tasty critters with my hands than spearfishing – and this article will focus on three of the tastiest critters found around the coast.

Crayfish

There’s no doubt that crays are getting harder to come by in many areas, particularly on the east coast from the Bay of Plenty to Northland. However, they can still be encountered most days if you put in the effort. I prefer a lazy approach – diving in shallow areas with decent water clarity at low-tide so you don’t have to work too hard! I regularly spot their tell-tale feelers poking out from cracks or under rocks when I’m up on the surface, and you can find them in surprisingly shallow water. Getting right in amongst the shoreline gutters, exposed rocks and reefs is sometimes where you’ll have the greatest success – possibly because these crays don’t often cross paths with the numerous commercially set cray pots in some spots.

Most divers hold their crayfish cards pretty close to their chests, so it pays to find your own spots. Google Maps in satellite view is great as it shows the type of coastline and underwater structures in any given area. The more gnarly the shoreline the better, as it means more cover for crayfish, and I also find more crays in areas where there is decent weed cover and fish life. Broken open kina shells and other food debris outside cracks and caves is usually a good sign for closer inspection – which basically involves sticking your head right in there and hoping to come face-to-face with a cray rather than a toothy moray eel. Similarly, shed crayfish shells lying around the place after the moulting period means they are present – just beware of softshell specimens which cannot be kept.

Scallops

Scallops are an iconic kiwi summer experience. They are found in inshore areas and harbours on sandy or muddy bottoms. High-current areas are good places to look as scallops are filter feeders. While most people hit the well-known beds which can be productive, I like finding my own spots – generally in shallower water and with much larger scallops. If they are still under water at low tide they could be there, and my current favourite spot is extremely shallow! If you are scoping out a new area it always pays to hunt on an incoming tide as generally the water will be significantly clearer.

Paua

I clearly remember the first time I went diving for Paua back in my Dunedin student days. Armed with pretty dodgy wetsuit set-ups and butter knifes marked with vivid at the 125mm minimum legal-size measure, we slid into the frigid water and were immediately greeted by a carpet of paua. On that day I think we lost our respective knives due to numbing hands and retreated back to our crappy flat for a well-deserved box of Speights!

While paua are certainly more prolific and larger the further south you go, legal ones can still be gathered throughout the country if you look hard. Paua like exposed rocky coastlines where oxygenated water provides good conditions for the food source of paua – algae. They often prefer smoother rocks and therefore investigating areas where boulders fall into the shore is often rewarding. If you find an area like this on an open coast with pink algae showing at low-tide then there may well be paua in the vicinity. The larger models tend to hide away under rocks or in cracks during the day, and if the rocks are small enough it can be worth flipping them completely over to expose the tasty morsels.

To prepare paua wedge your thumb between the meaty foot and the shell and keep pushing until the muscle pops free from the shell. Then simply remove the gut sack (unless you enjoy eating this like many do!) and cut out the hard teeth which can be felt on the mouth end of the paua. My favourite way of consuming these bad boys is to wrap them in a tea towel I don’t like anymore and beat them up with something hard like a hammer until well tenderised, then slice into thick chips, roll in flour, and fry with lots of butter and sliced onions on a high heat.

Good luck out there!

Article by: Nick Jones