Marine reserve fishers sought

A marine biologist is gunning for a boatie he spotted fishing with an associate allegedly inside the Tawharanui Marine Reserve.

He has all the information necessary for a successful prosecution, except for the names of the anglers, he says.

"Hopefully we can nail this guy. We have good back-up info and just need to track down who he is," Dr Roger Grace says. "Then we may be able to make a prosecution stick for a change."

Dr Grace was watching orca with nine others on a yacht in Omaha Bay on New Year's Day.

Six small runabouts also came in for a look.

As Orca are large dolphins,  boats are able to come closer than the 50 metre distance rule skippers are expected to follow during a whale encounter. But it is it is an offence, to harass or disturb marine mammals and one boat came closer than 5m on several occasions, something Dr Grace feels the animals clearly weren't happy about.

"One boat in particular was seen to move very close to the orca which protested by tail slapping on the water surface," Dr Grace says.

Dr Grace, who has been monitoring the marine reserve since before it was established in 1981, kept an eye on the vessel.

Drifting toward the shore off Anchor Bay, well inside the Tawharanui Marine Reserve, he spotted a woman in the boat with a fishing line in the water.

"This was clearly illegal fishing activity so we approached the boat to warn them," Dr Grace says.

But the skipper moved the boat away 200m then stopped again and began fishing, he says.

Dr Grace took photos and noted GPS co-ordinates during the incident.

He is hoping someone will recognise the people from his photos.

"We believe this is an incident of blatant disregard for the fishing prohibition in the reserve and would welcome an identification of these persons to enable the authorities to follow up this incident," he says.

Department of Conservation spokesman Nick Hirst says marine reserves play a vital role ensuring coastal waters continue to have fish and shellfish future generations can enjoy.

"It's crucial scientists have areas they can study where marine life is undisturbed.

"The information they gain from is vital to help maintain the number of fish and shellfish." DOC is investigating the alleged illegal fishing. It is keen to talk to the people in the photos, Mr Hirst says.

"We thank Dr Grace for being proactive on this issue as it's illegal to take, or attempt to take, any marine life from a marine reserve."

Anyone who sees someone fishing or gathering shellfish in a marine reserve should call DOC on 0800 362 468.

Rodney Times