By Wayne Thompson
Northland fisheries officers say they have seen little illegal fishing over the holiday period despite a report of suspected poaching in the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve.
Fishers were taking home good catches and showed high awareness of regulations, said Primary Industries Ministry district compliance officer Darren Edwards.
Despite stepped-up patrols for the summer, to date no prosecution action was being considered for serious offending. Only a small number of warnings or infringement notices for taking undersize fish were issued.
Meanwhile, the Department of Conservation said a decision could be made this week whether charges would be laid against two men suspected of illegally fishing inside the Poor Knights reserve, off the Whangarei coast.
A dive charter vessel crew took photographs of the men and they were traced to a coastal settlement.
The men were on holiday from Auckland. Their 5.8m runabout has not been reported on the Whangarei coast since.
Ministry district compliance manager for Waikato and Bay of Plenty Brendon Mikkelsen said most people were sticking to the rules. The compliance rate for recreational fishers was high.
Officers were doing inspections at sea and at boat ramps, other landing points and in popular shellfishing areas.
He reported "minimal offending" among people gathering inshore shellfish - tuatua, pipi, cockles, green-lipped mussels and paua - including around Thames and the Coromandel Peninsula where shellfish are prevalent.
Compared with previous years there were few reports of suspected illegal fishing to the 0800 4 POACHER line (0800 476224).
In the past two to three years most infringements around this time of the year were for taking too many shellfish ($250 or $500 fine) or undersize paua ($250).
The maximum penalty under recreational fishing regulations is $10,000 and loss of equipment and boat.
The Hauraki Gulf has the most visited marine reserves and DoC rangers reported less illegal fishing at Goat Island, Tawharanui and Long-Bay-Okura than in other years.
They have increased sea patrols over summer but rely heavily on reports of poaching from residents and recreational users of reserves.
The reserve off the North Shore's Long Bay Beach can receive more than 20,000 visitors on a busyday.
DoC spokesman Nick Hirst said the reserves were to safeguard representative examples of different coastal and marine habitats.
In the past three years DoC has prosecuted 25 people caught illegally fishing or gathering shellfish in the Long Bay-Okura Marine Reserve. Six were convicted and fined. The average fine was $500 with $130 court costs. The other 19 were ordered pay around $650 towards conservation.