Biosecurity checks at the ferry terminals in Picton and Wellington are being cut back from seven to four days a week.
The Ministry of Primary Industries is reducing its Check, Clean, Dry campaign at the Interislander and Bluebridge ferry terminals from Thursday through to Sunday.
MPI national co-ordination manager John Sanson said the change would come into effect next month, but the ministry would make up for the loss with a greater online presence.
The Express understood the cuts would start this month, but were told by Sanson it would come into effect "sometime after Queen's Birthday [weekend]" on June 2.
The Check, Clean, Dry campaign focuses on high-risk travellers, such as kayakers, boaties and trampers, to ensure freshwater pests are not carried between waterways.
Some freshwater pests in the South Island, such as didymo, are not yet in the North Island.
Fish & Game chief executive officer Bryce Johnson said he thought the cuts were "ludicrous".
"The problem is if we cut back from seven days to four days we are leaving the whole issue exposed. I think it's just ridiculous."
Johnson had not heard about the change until the Express contacted him.
Having nobody at the terminal educating passengers on freshwater pests meant the risk of the pests transferring between the islands would rise, Johnson said.
"Dropping from seven days to four seems crazy. It creates a massive hole in the biosecurity network . . . that's a big issue. It only takes one successful incursion to create a problem."
The online presence was a step forward, but should not be substituted for hours on the ground, he said.
"Online, people will just look right past it.
"Advocating without enforcement is ludicrous."
Sanson said the change would happen over winter, from June until September, when there were fewer people travelling.
"We have come up with a plan, not to reduce but to adjust."
Sanson said MPI would advocate the Check, Clean, Dry message on the ferry booking websites and would also display it on billboards and posters.
"It's just one of the pathways we use to get our message out there."
Feedback from contractors and ferry companies suggested there were fewer people travelling over the winter months so MPI wanted to get the "best use of our resources".
The change is based on feedback from advocates and MPI's annual audience survey.
MPI would monitor effectiveness through the survey and would look at adapting the strategy if it did not work out, he said.
"At this stage we would see the reduced hours in the winter but as we get into the spring time we would ramp in up again."
Freshwater Pest Partnership Programme operations manager Jeff Donaldson, who was contracted by MPI, said his team advocates at the Picton ferry terminal to spread the message.
It was all about changing people's behaviour about freshwater pests, Donaldson said.
"We come across many people who say ‘it's everywhere, why bother?"'
This attitude was the one they needed to change, he said.
"I think that it's important that we are at the ferries," he said. "The fact is that some people don't think they are in breach of anything."
The penalty for the spread of an unwanted organism is up to five years imprisonment, and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
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