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Set net battle back

LES WATKINS
Last updated 13:57 29/11/2012
NETS

MARINE DANGER: Set nets are blamed for trapping sea birds, like these shearwaters.

NETS
CONCERNED: Alan Sayers Hopes to see a ban on set nets extended Auckland wide.

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Anxious residents are ready to resume fighting a potential life-and-death battle they won six years ago over the controversial issue of set netting at Arkles Bay.

Their 2006 victory resulted in the former Rodney District Council finally agreeing to ban the practice which residents denounced as "disgraceful and highly dangerous".

The struggle to win the ban lasted nearly five years, during which the community was threatened and terrorised by a group of itinerant fish-gatherers, Arkles Bay Action Group chairman Alan Sayers says.

"During this time 13 swimmers, including an 11-year-old boy, were trapped in the nets and some were lucky not to have died," he says.

"Dolphins, penguins and other sea birds were drowned in them, as well as several dogs.

"These nets were unquestionably illegal - being twice the permitted length to start with - and were left in shallow water day and night along this little swimming beach," he says.

"Often there were up to five at a time there and catches were always retrieved in the dark."

"Anyone who dared question the behaviour of the fishing group was threatened or abused. One of my neighbours was told her home would be fire-bombed because she was suspected, wrongly, of having stolen one of their nets.

"Another woman had to jump a fence to escape being hit by a four-wheel-drive that veered off the road and across a verge straight at her."

The council agreed on the ban in October 2006, over-riding opposition from several councillors and officials and there was a celebration party with dancing to a jazz band beside the beach at Arkles Bay.

But old anxieties are returning because the banning bylaw is due for review.

Alan Sayers, despite having his 97th birthday on December 6, is campaigning as actively as ever to protect the neighbourhood.

He has lobbied the Auckland Council on the matter and provided its policy and bylaws representatives with a dossier detailing the set net saga and "its disastrous consequences".

Mr Sayers was at a Stanmore Bay public meeting with mayor Len Brown last week and produced a copy containing graphic photographs and a log of events, together with a series of investigations published by the Rodney Times.

Then he issued this challenge to Mr Brown: "Will you give your assurance that you will personally scrutinise the dossier already handed to your representatives in order to fully acquaint yourself with the full facts of this dreadful activity, which destroys the environment and puts human lives at risk?"

The mayor asked if he might borrow the copy to read it that evening and give it deep consideration.

"Our city is renowned for the beauty of our beaches and everything we can do to maintain safety on them we will do," Mr Brown told him.

Many in the large audience applauded this as excellent news for recreational beaches throughout the area - not just Arkles Bay.

It was particularly significant for those from Hatfields Beach where the set net operation was relocated after the 2006 ban.

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"Our story mirrors that of Arkles Bay," Hatfields Beach action group spokesman Neil Henson says.

"I have seen two boats entangled here in the nets, as well as birds such as shags, and the activity is intense - in the season never fewer than three nets in the water at a time," Mr Henson says.

"They are without doubt a serious danger to swimmers, particularly children and, as at Arkles Bay, locals are also being abused and intimidated by set netters."

Mr Henson has reported one incident to police.

"I would like to see the Arkles Bay bylaw extended to all other Auckland recreational swimming beaches."

- Rodney Times

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