Where are all the John Dory?

Pencil sketch by Brooke Ellis, past student of Mercury Bay Area School.

The John Dory appear to have almost disappeared from our beaches over the winter months.

The John Dory has been called “a vacuum cleaner” as it can swallow some quite large fish with an expandable jaw.  It is very thin and can approach its prey head-on virtually undetected. It appears stationary with a high dorsal fin and relatively large tail keeping it steady with just its fins moving before attacking its prey. The John Dory is rated highly for its eating quality.

Many years back there would be a regular early morning number of folk roaming the beaches for the John Dory that would become beached while chasing sprats in the shallows. Some would be laying on the sand from the receding tide having beached themselves and the tell tale sign was often a large gull pecking the eyes or the fish. If one was quick enough the remainder of the fish was still great eating much to the disgust of the gull who was sent off to find another stranded fish.

Numbers appear similar in open water fishing but why have they decreased inshore and on the beaches?

John Ellwood whilst operating the ferry at Mercury Bay in between runs in one year caught 790 John Dory! He donated most to the elderly who regularly met at the wharf or to valued customers on the ferry.

As a youngster we would catch John Dory after sighting them near the wharf and herding them towards shore by throwing gravel on the seaward side of the fish. With a log piece of stick we would further assist by hitting the water. It is great sight today to see youngsters catch a John Dory whilst retrieving a sprat caught from the wharf. Sadly this is not so common over recent years.

My Labrador was trained to catch and retrieve John Dory in the shallows. He delighted in catching the semi stranded fish as they surfaced often side-on swimming in circles. There was one problem.  When other people nearby sighted a fish he noted the body language and actions so immediately departed to assist! Unfortunately he dived into the water with such gusto and enthusiasm that he created confusion and so upsetted the visibility the fish escaped much to the disgust of the people involved. This often involved a trade off with previously caught fish to avoid a possible argument.


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