Big fisheries operation in Taranaki
3 October 2011
Last week Fishery Officers from New Plymouth, Wellington, Napier and Masterton, assisted by Honorary Fishery Officers (volunteers) from New Plymouth, took part in “Operation Mercury” in the Taranaki region.
Field Operations Manager Mike Green said the operation ran from Monday 26 September until Saturday 1 October, covering the king low tides.
“The purpose of the operation was to interact with members of the public on the Taranaki reefs, to inspect fishers gathering seafood and where necessary take appropriate action in relation to those found in breach of fisheries legislation,” Mr Green said.
King low tides expose more of the reefs, making shellfish, and particularly paua, more accessible to gatherers.
“The two main issues are people taking excess and/or undersize paua,” Mr Green said. “Gatherers are allowed 10 paua per day each. A person cannot take extra for other people whether they are in the area at the time or somewhere else.”
The minimum legal size limit for paua in the Taranaki area is 85 millimetres, smaller than in the rest of the country. This limit came into effect in October 2009 as a result of research into the stunted growth of Taranaki paua and consultation with the local fishing forum.
Before this date a person could not go out and collect a legal feed of paua due the limit being 125 millimetres. The Taranaki paua management area is bordered by the Awakino River in the North and runs down the coast to the Wanganui River in the south. On the landward side it is bordered by State highways 3 and 4.
“A person can only take or be in possession of paua 85 millimetres or more inside this Taranaki area. Outside the area all paua has to be at least 125 millimetres. Therefore, a person cannot take legally gathered paua from the Taranaki area to friends or family living outside this area,” Mr Green said.
Between October 2009 and the start of this latest operation a total of 274 people have committed 202 offences (including joint offenders) involving excess and/or undersized paua in Taranaki.
This breaks down on average to just under two a week. Of the 202 offences, 24 have resulted in prosecutions where the offender(s) have committed serious non-commercial offences (more than three times the legal limit - 31 or more) and have had their cases heard in court.
The penalties the courts have awarded to these offenders range from hefty fines, costs and community service to forfeiture of vehicles and equipment. In one recent case, three offenders were sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment.
“During the latest operation, Fishery Officers stopped at total of 138 groups of people who had been gathering shellfish and detected a total of 47 cases of people breaching the fisheries legislation,” Mr Green said. “A number of these cases were serious enough that they will be dealt with by the courts. Equipment and a vehicle were also seized during the operation.
“It must be said that the Ministry is disappointed with the overall compliance rate among paua gathers in the Taranaki region. These new rules were aimed at allowing the public access to the stunted paua stocks and it was expected that those gathering paua would respect the new rules. Accordingly the Ministry will show little tolerance for those who continue to breach the rules and further operations are planned to address the current mindset of those who choose to offend.”
Fishery Officers rely heavily on the public being vigilant and to report anything they see as suspicious on 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224).