Tuesday, 15 January 2008


In 1987, we were anchored at the western entrance to Nuguria, close to the island after which our yacht, Tekani was named. It was a sentimental return to this isolated South Pacific atoll where we had enjoyed many previous visits as guests of plantation owner Graeme Carson and his Nugurian born wife Tetau

S.V. Tekani. Nuguria Lagoon. 1987

During this, our last visit, we were fortunate to be once more invited to join the people of Busuria Village for live-bait fishing in the lagoon.

Tekani, the home island.

Live bait fishing involves many people and is carried out using traditional methods and materials; the end result is a canoe filled to the gunwales with fish, but many hours of intense effort by thirty or more people precede the final frantic few moments, when fish after fish is landed by casting small baitfish on barbless hooks into a milling school of trevally.

The water in the lagoon is crystal clear

The bait drive starts at low tide on the crown of the reef by dragging a long sweep-net into an ever-decreasing circle. The net is made from coconut fronds, twisted and bound together. It reaches from the surface of the water down to the shallow, sandy bottom in a dark, threatening curtain and is kept floating on the reef, when not in use. The net lasts for many months before being discarded and left to drift away. Small silver wrasse and other bait fish flee before it into a bamboo mat which is then emptied into a long split-cane basket hung on the side of the canoe .

The net is deployed

and dragging starts

driving small bait fish into an ever shrinking area

into the mat floating at its end

The mat is lifted carefully out of the water,shifting
the bait fish into the floating basket alongside the canoe

In former times, the canoe with its floating basket of live bait secured alongside, together with two or more other canoes, would be sailed or paddled across the lagoon to a deepwater reef entrance on its eastern edge, where schools of golden trevally are known to gather. An outboard motor now speeds this part of the live bait fishing operation, but everything else stays as it has been for generations.

After locating the school of trevally, the head fisherman first sprinkles the canoe with salt water in a traditional gesture of recognition to the ancestral spirits of the lagoon, then scoops up a bailer-load of bait fish and casts them in a wide circle around the canoe.

The fish start feeding on the live bait, undeterred by reef sharks which soon appear.

Fishers using bamboo rods with fixed lines impale live wrasse from the bait basket on barbless hooks and cast them into the school which is now in a feeding frenzy. Hook-up is immediate, as soon as the bait hits the water.

Bait casting

Five or more rod-wielding fisherman in the canoe soon fill it with a load of flapping trevally, fresh from the sea, more than enough to feed the entire village. Surplus fish are smoked and preserved for later meals.

A fish is quickly landed before it throws the barbless hook

From time to time, tales of a food shortage on Nuguria and similar atolls East of Bougainville, circulate in the electronic media. While the reports are genuine enough, they fail to point out that the shortage is of imported tinned fish and rice which have displaced taro and fresh fish as the staple diet: easier to open a bag of rice or a tin of Taiwanese mackerel-pike, than to toil in a mosquito laden taro pit or spend all day fishing under a vertical tropical sun; but, unlike its its Australian predecessor, the PNG Government is not always prepared to deliver shiploads of food to the atolls on request. Fortunately, the traditional hunter-gather skills of the Nugurians are still remembered, to be used again when hunger prompts.

Camera: Ivy Darcey


1 comment:

  1. Just how I remember it Brian. Bloody marvellous!!!!!!!!!!!!!1