Rewind to the end of last summer… Joe has cleaned and gutted a snapper and is preparing a simple sugar and salt brine to soak it in. He explains that technically the fish didn’t need to be scaled but the things tend to come off and become annoying if you don’t. The snapper goes into the brine and later tonight we will smoke it.

He describes his pre-dawn fishing routine. Three rods out over the side of the dinghy. One for bait fish and two with varying sizes of bait for varying sizes of fish. If you want to catch a big fish, use a big chunky piece of bait. The smaller fish might have a nibble, but you’re waiting for a big guy to go for an audacious chomp and take the hook.

We are in the Hauraki Gulf where snapper has been a sought after and over-fished catch. They eat all sorts including Kina and shellfish, and when their numbers are low it has a cascading effect amongst their prey species and their habitat. We are in the wider ‘Snapper 1’ area, which is roughly the North East side of the North Island, and where the minimum recreational catch size has recently been increased from 27 to 30cm, while the commercial minimum size remains at 25cm.

There is friction between commercial and recreational fishers over managing the fishery and all sorts of complicated considerations. For example recreational fishers are close to shore in concentrated areas and commercial fishing happens in deep water. Is one more damaging than the other? Commercial fishing is big business and a politically powerful export industry, but who are the outspoken recreational fishers? Are they mom and pop fishing to feed the family or are they charter boat operators? How do you divide up a resource that is bouncing back from decline? How much flesh is there on a 25cm fish?

Joe says the wings of the fish are the best bit. He’s also told the kids this, so they’ve become a sought after item. I try one from yesterdays catch and agree the tender bits are delicious but it’s a bit of a fiddle getting in round the bones. Kindof funny the kids are into it as bones were the thing that put me off fish when I was young.

Usually you would put a dish of meths in the bottom of the smoker but we didn’t have any so put the box directly on the hotplate and guesstimated how long to leave it there, before setting it aside hot and leaving it covered while we re-stoked the fire.

We cranked the fire back up and cooked sausages then roasted marshmallows in the drizzling rain. The perfect night. We had the fish the next day and it was amazing. Mild, creamy, filling, and the brownish bits round the edge were super tangy and moreish.