Flagrant disregard for the boundaries of the Eastern Bay of Plenty’s only marine reserve, Te Paepae o Aotea (Volkner Rocks), has tarred the Whakatane Tuna Tournament.
Department of Conservation operations boat, Matariki, spent the first day of the tournament out patrolling this special and protected area of water. Within half an hour of arriving at the reserve, DOC staff had talked to three boats which were actively fishing inside the reserve. By the end of the day they had talked to four. What frustrated staff the most, was that three of these boats appear to be operated by locals who should definitely know better.
“As far as the Department of Conservation is concerned we are seriously tiring of the excuses” said Fiona Hennessey, Acting Area Manager for the Rangitaiki Area which takes in the reserve. “Every skipper was given details and full coordinates of Te Paepae o Aotea Marine Reserve in their Tuna Tournament registration pack. We even spoke at the Tuesday evening briefing – so they can’t say that they weren’t aware. It is sad to see that a few are spoiling it for the many.”
There are also full reserve coordinates displayed prominently at all boat ramps around the Eastern Bay, along with brochures at most boat and fishing shops in the area.
“We cannot install a full set of buoys surrounding the reserve as depths are over two hundred metres in places. However, there are two large yellow buoys which were installed before Christmas which designate the inside cut out of the full circle surrounding the one nautical mile radial boundary of the reserve” said Ms Hennessey. “Surely this will suggest to skippers that perhaps they should be backing off a bit from fishing next to these culturally significant pillars.
“The Tuna Tournament is such a fantastic local event, it disappoints me to see a few fisher folk tarring the name and image of one of the real highlights of events in the Bay of Plenty. The Whakatane Sport Fishing Club does a great job with organising this event – we just wish that all skippers did their bit to support it.”
DOC is now assessing what action to take against infringing vessels with one possibility being to ask the Whakatane Sport Fishing Club to ban boats which are found to be fishing in the reserve.
Prosecution under the Marine Reserves Act, 1971 resulted in fines of $1500 plus court costs and forfeiture of fishing gear for a North Shore man last year, while the owner of a fishing vessel on which he was not present was fined $2000 plus costs under a separate prosecution in the South Island. At least three prison sentences have been imposed for breaches of the Act.