A group of pre-release convicts and two prison officers were apprehended leaving a protected area and found to have prohibited ‘kai moana’ (seafood- probably crayfishpauaor kina[sea-urchins]) in their vehicle. Their being there was as part of a ‘rehabilitation’ programme that had the stated aims of “[the diving courses] help released prisoners connect with positive activities in the community.” Their excuse for being in the marine reserve was that they had “taken a wrong turning” and ended up at the wrong beach by mistake. The wrong beach that they arrived at will be clearly marked with signs describing extent of the marine reserve (with a clear aerial photo with the reserve boundaries marked on it) and a list of ‘dos and donts’ outlining what may or may not be done. Top of the list will have been a clear instruction that prohibits the taking of any marine creatures- the New Zealand ‘in the wild’ mantra of “take only pictures, leave only footprints” which aims at protection of sensitive regions and threatened flora and fauna paraphrased. Apparently the group had seen a sign!
The reasons these marine reserves have been established all around New Zealand’s coast is to enable over-fished areas to recover and become the wonderful under-sea recreation areas they once were. As they once were before the greed and total disregard for the environment that far too many displayed through the latter third of the last century. People would go to a beach and gather sea-food with no consideration that the hundreds of paua, kina and crayfish were a finite resource. One would have thought that they might have realised when those remaining were getting smaller and smaller, or even previously productive areas were no longer ‘easy pickings’ that there was a problem and some degree of self-regulation might have prevailed- but no. This pillaging was so bad that over time formerly productive reefs were totally denuded of these fish.
The rapid recovery of stocks in these protected areas has proved the worth of the scheme and thus many are being established up and down the coasts of our beautiful country. There is a degree of ‘kaitiakatanga’ (guardianship) practiced in some areas by Maori at various times, too, and this process (including imposing ‘rahui’ or ‘no-fishing’ on zones) has also shown how well our natural resources are able to recover if they are left alone.
The penalties for breaching protection laws are severe- big fines, confiscation of the gear used (including boat and car!) in aiding the illegal taking, even jail, and rightly so. People who involve themselves know these penalties (as much as they know the purpose of protection) and so I am quite incredulous that the ‘powers that be’ have in this case taken these men at their word, have quietly returned the fish to the sea, and everyone’s gone about their business!
This is a great lesson learned as part of the rehabilitation process- that if you go fishing in protected areas go with someone in ‘authority’ who is going to have his word taken by the police or rangers who you may come to meet with a boot load of illegal catch!