Paua to the people: Kapiti residents plan volunteer force to protect marine reserve
Kapiti conservationists are looking to recruit a volunteer security force to protect the district's marine reserve, saying the Department of Conservation is too stretched do the job.
Kapiti Marine Reserve is a 22-square-kilometre area around the Waikanae Estuary and Kapiti Island, in which no fishing, either from a boat or from shore is allowed.
But DOC's single boat runs only about 30 hours of patrol a month, and Guardians of Kapiti Marine Reserve chairman Ben Knight said the department was essentially relying on an "honesty system" among fishers.
He said he dived in the reserve every weekend over last summer, and about every second weekend he found people fishing there. There were six posts over summer on the group's Facebook page from people who spotted fishers in the reserve.
The Guardians are holding a public meeting on July 24 at the Kapiti Boating Club in a bid to recruit observers including boaties and shore dwellers. They also plan to set up a wilderness webcam over what Knight described as the reserve's "lolly jar" – a hidden section with walls of paua, big crayfish, and swarming with blue cod.
Trustee and adviser Steve Anderton said the group would help spot and identify fishers inside the reserve. Volunteers could warn the fishers directly, and pass detailed information to DOC.
Knight said it would be up to observers how they dealt with illegal fishers.
"When I've been out on the water and seen people fishing in the reserve, I've approached in my boat and said, 'Do you know you're in the reserve? You need to move on'."
Illegal fishers would begin to realise they were likely to be moved on "by a community caring for the reserve".
DOC said it welcomed the offer of help, and pointed out that its single boat, based at Mana, was responsible for covering both the Kapiti reserve and the Taputeranga reserve off Island Bay, Wellington.
Local operations manager Jack Mace said: "We are able to dedicate 400 hours a year – approximately 30 hours a month – to monitoring the Kapiti Marine Reserve, including planned patrols and responding to incidents. The more help we can get from the community the better."
He said if people spotted a fisher in the reserve, they should call the DOC hotline 0800 362 468 immediately with as much detail as possible.
"We urge people to also safely take photographs which can identify the vessel and individuals."
If DOC's boat ranger was able to respond at the time, he would, Mace said.
"Just last month, a public phone call about illegal fishing in the Taputeranga Marine Reserve led to the apprehension, that day, of the suspects back at the boat ramp."
Penalties for fishing inside marine reserves can include the confiscation of boats and vehicles, fines, or imprisonment.