Nicknames are often ironic. Thus, big men are Tiny and ginger-haired are Bluey. In the case of Allan “Smiley” Mackay the epithet could not be more appropriate.

He has such a sunny nature his wife Christine bought him the matching number plate.

Well almost, Smiley was not available but 5Milee was. The New Plymouth-based cray fisherman has much to be happy about. He has secure quota, a healthy fishery, seven months off a year and the prospect of a new boat.

His current vessel Rampage, a 10-year-old 10.4-metre fiberglass Steber design powered by twin Volvo 300s, has served him well but he wants to go bigger and operate more efficiently.

He has commissioned a 16.6m (54 foot) aluminium Schwetz design boat from Saltwater Commercial Workboats in Perth and expects delivery by March or April.

Before he pushed the buy button, Mackay checked out a similar vessel owned by a fellow rock lobster fisherman, Graeme Anderson at Bluff.

Anderson described his boat – Brojak – “as a bit lively”, by which he meant it was nimbler than a heavier glass boat. “You can’t fault it as a sea boat,” Anderson says. “It doesn’t roll further than a glass boat, it’s just quicker. It’s a very easily driven boat, very soft riding and a very good-looking boat.”

The boat built to a Legend design is not new, launched in 2001, and is in its fourth season with Anderson on the Southland coast.

He brought it across from Hobart, 66 hours across the Tasman in good weather with no dramas.

Mackay’s boat will be trucked across the Nullabor from Perth and he is yet to decide whether to put it on a cargo ship or pilot it across from Melbourne or Sydney himself.

It is powered by an 850 horsepower Caterpillar C12.9, has a big 5.25m beam, two 1500 litre and two 800 litre fuel tanks, can carry up to 12 passengers and has a load capacity of five tonnes on the deck.

The aluminium hull is cut in Australia and then sent to China for assembly and addition of the top deck and wheelhouse.

Then it is back to Fremantle for fitting of the glass, engine, hydraulics and interior fittings. The turnkey cost, including safety equipment of life rafts and flares, is A$1.26 million, with another $70k for delivery.

The local rock lobster fishery is in good health but with other operators, notably Richard Kibblewhite and the Connor brothers from Picton, having a bigger presence, Mackay is having to travel further afield, two hours south to below Opunake.

With a bigger boat with a lot more deck space he will be able to manage a bigger load. There has been some conflict with recreational fishers and a number of pot floats have been cut off, a $500 loss for a big pot.

A compromise has been reached with the commercial operators agreeing not to set within 1.5 nautical miles of the Opunake boat ramp.

Last year Mackay had two pots cut off at the 1.6-mile mark, but nothing touched beyond that

In a close-knit community, he knows who was responsible – there were only two recreational boats out that day – and has pictures of them from when they featured in a local newspaper.

Any repeat and Smiley and the other operators may not be so friendly.

Mackay used to wetfish as well, longlining for snapper and gurnard, but found it was not economic, returning as little as $1 to $1.50 a kilo.

He has 4.357 tonnes of CRA9 rock lobster quota, leased from his mother Pam. His father Ian, also a fisherman, died of prostate cancer 10 years ago.

Mackay knows engines – he trained as a mechanic, worked on trucks for Ford, then tractors for Norwood and Massey Ferguson before becoming a manager with Gough Gough & Hamer.

“Sitting in an office behind a computer in a white shirt and tie, I had to be credit controller, debt collector and everything else in between.

“It was time for a change. I haven’t looked back since.”

Smiley is one of those guys who flies under the radar, according to Federation of Commercial Fishermen president Doug Saunders-Loder.

“He likes the representation and the relationships that brings him.

“He is a good old New Zealand boy. He’s not a grizzler, he looks for solutions, gets on with it and makes it happen.

“There’s some people in life who make you smile. He’s totally relaxed in life.”

Only working from early July until the end of November at the latest no doubt helps.

Mackay fishes into Port Nicholson Fisheries in Wellington for the live trade to China, although he keeps 100kg aside for Keith Mawson’s Egmont Seafoods for the Christmas trade.

His quota was caught and sold before the Covid pandemic and the closure of the lucrative Chinese market, so his business was unaffected by the lockdown. He did miss out on a 10-day hunting trip with mates to Stewart Island for the roar in April.

He is a keen hunter and has an impressive trophy stag head in his garage, and another in the house, along with other game. But he is mellowing, often content to just observe magnificent animals in the wild without pulling the trigger.

“A month ago in Waverley, I snuck up on a spiker. He was only 20-metres away and he wasn’t sure what I was. He ran back and forth, stamped his feet. I just sat there; it was just great to see.”

When Mackay told his mates at the Treehouse Hotel he was going to Australia to buy a new boat, they decided to come too.

Ten of them went to the Sydney Boat Show, where Mackay put the order in.

“We had a ball,” he says.

You would expect nothing less with such a genial host.