With his welcoming personality, deep-sea tales of pirates and Russian billionaires (not the same thing) that would make your toes curl, and stories of remote and secluded fishing spots in shark- and croc-infested waters, Tony Orton has you hooked from the moment you meet him. However, he’s also quick to point out that it’s the ocean that surrounds the Mokohinau Islands near his home and business in Mangawhai Heads where he is at most at peace.
Somewhat ironically born in Balclutha, a small inland town in lower South Island, Tony Orton, along with his wife Bea, owns travel and fishing companies, Journey of a Fisherman and Offshore adventures. According to Tony, he “fell in love with the ocean the moment I saw it” and while for over a decade this passion has taken him around the globe too many times to mention, his message throughout has remained very clear: sustainability.
Tony is very protective of the water and sea life, which again may seem rather odd coming from a person that makes a living from fishing, but that in many ways is the point. Plundering the fish, wrecking the sea floor and abusing our world-class fishing and tourism position, offers zero long term gain for Tony business-wise, or indeed ethically.
“We don’t use store-bought, commercially-caught bait,” he begins. “Our hooks are specially designed not to snare. We rarely take our quota. We don’t anchor.” On the outset, his list of dos and don’ts appear restrictive and he’s quick to point out that ‘not laying anchor’ has caused a few smiles in the business, after all, it’s only around ten times a day. But it’s when you look at the bigger picture, things become more clear and rather scary.
Taking commercial fishing out of the equation (that’s a whole other kettle of fish), more than 700,000 people – residents and international visitors – fish in the sea, around 65 percent are boat-based. This generates around $638 million in GDP, roughly $342 million in salaries, wages and small business profits and conservatively $188 million in tax revenues to help keep New Zealand functioning. So rest assured, it’s big business. So from Tony’s viewpoint, 450,000 anglers in boats dropping heavy metal anchors onto the fragile kelp or sea bed that helps breed and feed the fish that they take their maximum quota of, is sure to have a long-lasting effect.
Locally, a fishing trip experience with Tony and his team is an action-packed day. From the moment you board the Extreme boat at just before dawn to when you step back onto the wharf late afternoon, you’re catching live bait, spotting flying fish, dolphins, schools of kahawai and trevally covering the water’s surface, plus, of course, landing epic-sized snapper and kingfish, while remembering to only take what you need.
Tony’s and Bea’s vision of sustainability has helped nurture a formidable business and attracted attention from a variety of high-profile sponsors such as Ford, Hunting and Fishing, Shimano, Garmin, Honda Marine and NZ Fishing News to name but a few, and his ‘fish whisperer’ prowess of finding even the most obscure of species has international consumers lining up to come aboard.