Almost 3,000 cockles and 150 undersized paua are back in the sea after successful interventions by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and local police.
Last week, Fisheries New Zealand received two calls to its 0800 4 POACHER line regarding groups of people gathering cockles at Eastern Beach in Auckland – an area clearly signposted that gathering of any shellfish is prohibited in order to replenish stocks.
A fishery officer and an honorary fishery officer visited the scene. Initially nothing illegal was found, but on moving to the southern end of the beach, the officers found a man about to load a large bag of cockles into a vehicle.
“Officers inspected the content and found 2,216 cockles, 10 whelks, and 10 snails,” said Gary Orr, director of compliance at MPI.
“The four gatherers told officers they were unaware of the beach closure to the collecting of shellfish and had not seen the closure signage. They also did not know the daily limits for shellfish from areas that are not closed within the Auckland-Coromandel area.
“Our officers pointed out there were 16 MPI signs indicating the shellfish closure at the beach and on approaching the beach,” Mr Orr said.
The alleged offenders may face prosecution.
Also in the past few days, following more calls to the poacher line, fishery officers found several groups in the water off Eastern Beach, some eating cockles raw from the shell, others collecting them.
The officers seized a bag with 133 cockles hidden under a large inflatable toy.
“These groups also claimed they had not seen the signage and none of them knew the rules about daily limits,” Mr Orr said.
“The officers provided extensive education on areas where collection is legal, areas currently closed, and the daily limits for shellfish, including cockles.”
Also last week, MPI fishery officers seized 579 cockles gathered illegally at Eastern Beach. Three people may be prosecuted.
The cockles in all three seizures were returned to the sea.
In a recent joint operation in Mahia, Hawke’s Bay, fishery officers and police checked the haul of a few fishermen and found 156 undersized paua.
The paua were returned to the sea, while the vehicle and gear of the alleged offenders, who may face prosecution, have been seized.
“It is extremely disappointing that greed and lack of consideration for the marine ecosystem is common among those we catch,” Mr Orr said.
“Protecting our precious marine resources is not just the responsibility of fishery officers. Those resources belong to New Zealand and we all have a responsibility to act as guardians of those resources for future generations.”
Fisheries New Zealand and police say they will continue combined operations to deter illegal fishing.
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