A number who left school at 15, or unofficially even earlier, have risen to be skippers and fishing leaders, commanding satisfying careers and big money.
Those who struggled with the confines of the classroom and regarded nine to five in an office as a slow death, often found their niche at sea.
Their defining characteristics were determination, rugged individualism and a work ethic.
Yet, despite the adventure and the challenge and the rewards, recruiting crews is increasingly problematic.
We are good at catching fish – we need to be better at luring staff.
That was the message to this month’s Seafood New Zealand annual conference from Anne Haira, Primary Industry Training Organisation general manager business and industry partnerships.
She warned there is a people crisis looming for the seafood industry, and across the broader primary sector.
Bringing in seasonal workers from Pacific Island countries has become a mainstay in horticulture, especially fruit picking, and there are calls to extend this regime to other primary industries, including seafood.
“But this will only ever be a stop-gap measure and won’t fix the fundamental problem that New Zealanders are choosing not to work in these industries,” Haira said.
“We need to accept that people’s attitudes and expectations about work have changed and are changing. We are in a new people era.
“People have greater choice and they are demanding more from their employers.
“Businesses need to provide a stronger value proposition to potential employees.”
Demand for labour is high - employment rates are at record levels and in some regions there is almost zero unemployment.
And there are always those who refuse to get off the couch, content to lead limited lives bludging off the state.
The recruiting difficulty was highlighted with the arrival of Sealord’s freezer trawler Tokatu.
Months of advertising drew only one qualified and experienced applicant from outside Sealord.
When the focus shifted offshore to the Philippines, hundreds sought jobs and now make up a third of the full crew of 75.
So what to do about a serious situation?
Primary ITO has developed a new range of training programmes for rollout in 2019.
It has looked to rugby and its endless stream of talented players, much to the Aussies’ dismay, as an exemplar.
“One lesson we can take from that is that their talent machine starts in schools,” Haira said.
“And it is structured and tracked. Every potential All Black is supported and nurtured from very early on.
“The same can apply in the seafood industry. Being able to attract people into the sector is such a competitive game – you need to start early.”
The ITO’s answer is to include seafood academies in its school's programme, which has been running for a number of years over 50 secondary schools.
This will go beyond work experience and include the range of career opportunities across the sector.
Any business that wants to be involved should contact the ITO.
A more structured career pathway through an apprenticeship option is also proposed.
Apprenticeships have traditionally related to trades and have the advantages of universal definitions and standards that are nationally recognised.
This carries greater weight than a cadetship and demonstrates to young people choosing between industries that the employer is committed to investing in people.
The ITO view, endorsed by Seafood NZ, is that in the same way that we show the way in areas like our quota management system - and rugby - we can also be world leaders in how we value and grow our people.