Caleb Mason remembers the exact moment he decided to become a commercial fisherman. "I was 15 years old and I saw a story about deep-sea fishing on TV and I said, ‘That’s me, I’m going to do this’.
“When I was 18 I found out about Westport Deep Sea Fishing School. I contacted them and said ‘how can I get into this?’ They told me to get on down to Westport. That was a Tuesday and I got down there on the Thursday. I did a basic two-week trip on this boat called theTasman Viking – just to make sure I could handle the seas and everything.”
With the training course behind him, Caleb approached Talley's, which operates a deep-sea fishing fleet out of Nelson. They offered him a six-week unpaid trial trip on a fishing boat, and he impressed them enough that they offered him a permanent deckhand position.
"It was a big learning curve, but you have good crew teaching you what to do. If you just take your time, you'll get things right."
That first trip was six years ago. Caleb has since worked his way up to leading deckhand. He says the job can be hard, physical work that demands a variety of skills. “Deckhand work involves hauling in the gear and shooting the gear [dropping the nets], fixing nets and making sure the gear’s fine.
“After we shoot the gear and the net’s in the water, we go downstairs and process the fish that we've pulled up earlier and help out in the factory – packing fish or filleting."
Safety is paramount when dealing with the sometimes hazardous working conditions on a deep-sea fishing boat. “We’ve got to look after each other as a crew. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working out there – you can still make mistakes.
“Down south it gets pretty hectic sometimes. I like it when it’s rough – I just think 'yeah, let's get into it, this is crazy!' "
Caleb says one of the good things about working on a factory fishing boat is that there are opportunities to progress your career. He plans to sit his watchkeeper's ticket soon, with the ultimate goal of working on the boat's bridge.