Call for beach net ban
Let's get rid of setnets at popular Auckland beaches.
That's the message from Auckland councillor Wayne Walker who wants to see what the council can do about it.
"The number of swimmers who've been entangled - some lucky not to have died - underlines the fact that we don't need the extra hazard of these nets," he says.
Mr Walker of Whangaparaoa represents the council's Albany ward and chairs its environmental forum.
Rodney Times editor Geoff Dobson and his family, among thousands who flocked to Te Haruhi Bay at Shakespear Regional Park on New Year's Day, were appalled to see three setnets in the shallows where children were playing.
"One was removed when the tide went out but the others were left there all day," Mr Dobson says.
"One parallel to the beach was potentially dangerous but the other, set at right angles to the beach, was far worse.
"The current kept dragging us towards it and, although we struggled, we couldn't avoid getting snared.
"So were some other swimmers and they were really upset," he says.
Mr Dobson and adult son Eli had a similar experience at Te Haruhi Bay last year while snorkelling to the wreck of the SS Wainui.
"We swam straight into a net because there was no way we could see it.
"It's just as well we're reasonably good swimmers because we could have been in big trouble.
"It's disgraceful that this practice - almost inviting tragedies - is allowed to continue on our busy holiday beaches."
Omaha Beach is among those with a setnet problem.
Rodney's Insite Security general manager Chris Martin says two nets which he took from the shallows were collected, at his request, by fisheries officers employed by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), which replaced the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF).
He also arranged for the Omaha Surf Club to pick up a third containing dead or dying fish, drifting about 150 metres offshore.
"In addition to still catching more fish, it was a potential hazard for vessels," Mr Martin says.
MPI compliance manager North Harbour Deirdre Hilditch says people should think twice before removing nets that don't belong to them.
"MPI does not encourage this sort of action as it could lead to charges being pressed by the setnet owner through the police," Ms Hilditch says.
Her advice is to ring 0800 476 224, a number manned by ministry staff.
"Responsibilities for maritime craft and swimmer safety do not lie with MPI," she says.
The Auckland Council is reviewing public bylaws and people are invited to make submissions between February 15 and March 15 online via its website.
Alternatively, forms will be available at council service centres and libraries.
● No incidents where a person swimming has become tangled in a net and drowned have been recorded in Auckland or the rest of New Zealand between 2002-2011, a Water Safety New Zealand spokeswoman says.
"In regards to near misses, we get hospitalisation data which is coded in accordance with international hospital coding systems, so there would be no way of knowing if it was related to net fishing," the spokeswoman says.