An Oamaru fisherman’s close encounter with a large broadnose sevengill shark is a memory he will not soon forget.
About two weeks ago, Keith Sheffield, a keen hunter and fisherman, was fishing off the north side of Holmes Wharf when he hooked something unexpected on his 35-pound line, using a combination of squid, red cod and pipis as bait.
“I hooked this thing at about 5pm to 5.30pm. There was just a little bite – well, I thought it was a bite – then he just grabbed the rod.”
At that stage, he had his suspicions it may have been a shark of some kind.
Those suspicions were confirmed after a battle of more than an hour that left him “knackered”.
“I was following him halfway up the harbour and he took me to the point where the boats come in. He slowed up and I pulled him back in. Then he shot down the north side of the wharf.
“I got him back to where he’d been first then he took off north again for about 150m to 200m.”
Mr Sheffield, who has fished throughout the Otago and Canterbury regions, had held the shark on his line for about an hour by that point, before it started to slow up.
“I got him 40m to 50m away and he went to the bottom. After about another 20 minutes, I decided to break the line.
“All of a sudden .. he was coming to the top. His head popped out of the water and it was a sevengill. I got him really close in – I got him down by the rocks and I had a good look at him.”
He estimated the shark was about 2.4m long and weighed between 150kg and 180kg.
Because he was alone and had no way to pull the shark ashore, Mr Sheffield opted to release his catch.
“I decided to cut him loose. I didn’t want to kill it because they’re not the best eating fish around.”
University of Otago masters student Rob Lewis, who specialises in broadnose sevengill sharks, said the shark was often found in shallow waters around New Zealand, especially around Stewart Island and less commonly in the Otago region.
“They’re a coastal species so they can be a common sight in under 50m of water, so fishermen tend to run into them quite often,” Mr Lewis said.
Based on the size described by Mr Sheffield, Mr Lewis said the shark was likely a mature female and possibly pregnant.
The sharks were “quite curious” but not a threat to humans.
He said attacks on humans by sevengill sharks were very rare, and no fatal attacks had been attributed to the species.
While it was the first time he had caught a shark of that species off the Oamaru coast, Mr Sheffield had caught several smaller carpet sharks.
He said it was an experience he would remember for a long time.