Cracker by Damian Christie

These Are Not the Scallops You’re Looking For

Much like farting in a lift, you’d think everyone would have realised by now that this country is far too small to get away with anything. You can’t speed, even if you are the police commissioner. You just can’t go randomly killing tourists. And you can’t just make shit up.

Last weekend I learnt another thing you can’t get away with: Taking undersize shellfish.

I’d never before been scallop fishing, or hunting, or gathering, or whatever the correct verb is. Like a weekend at the Coromandel, it’s another one of those things you could do every day (in season) if you wanted to, and in Auckland it’s a short and pleasant drive out somewhere like Cornwallis.

One thing scallop gathering/hunting/fondling certainly isn’t, is diving. At least not in the Manukau harbour, where visibility is less than zero. Putting gloves on in waist-deep water, my mask and snorkel dropped from my hands and disappeared instantly.

I fumbled around uselessly like a teenager trying to find second base. No mask, but I did pull up a scallop. Then another, and another. I’d hunted/gathered/fluked more than half a dozen while my masked and snorkelled companions were still finding their first.

Half an hour later, like Helen Keller of the Sea, I’d managed to fill my catch bag using nothing but my sense of touch. I call it Jedi Scalloping. And as the icing on the cake, just as I was heading in, one last scrounge in the sand saw me snatching my mask and snorkel back from Neptune’s grasp.

Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me the forces of the Evil Galactic Empire (also known as the Ministry of Fisheries) were waiting for me. Actually, it was fairly beknownst – they’d been there when we went in – and I’d been careful to only take my quota (20), and make sure they were all legal size (100mm). What I hadn’t counted on was a faulty measuring stick, and a few things soon became clear:

(a) near enough is not good enough;
(b) my catch bag handle was clearly not 100mm
(c) 99.5mm is not 100mm
(d) the Jedi Mind Trick doesn’t work on Fisheries Officers.

I’ve seen Border Patrol, or Coast Watch or So You Wanna be a Seafood Ranger? or whatever that show’s called. Just like those evil foreigners they always catch pillaging our kaimoana, I knew I was facing a fine (or worse, the confiscation of my gear and new wetsuit). I threw myself on the mercy of the Department of Fisheries.

And it worked. A verbal warning, a promise to buy a proper measuring stick thing and I went home with 16 legal scallops. Two hours later, after simmering in a little garlic, butter and cream, they were gone.

Perhaps I was still peaking from my brush with authority, but they were definitely the best scallops I ever ate.