Monday, 20 January 2020


Call-out from DOC to report suspicious marine reserve behaviour

A recent spike in poaching of spiny red lobster (crayfish) from the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve at Cathedral Cove has prompted the Department of Conservation to call-out to the public to report any suspicious behaviour in and around the reserve.

Marine reserves play a major role in helping the reproduction rate of all species that inhabit the wider areas around the reserves. It is important that larger breeding crayfish can survive to reproduce and increase the local population.

Marine ranger, James Blackmore, says, “The Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve welcomes thousands of visitors every year, the majority of those in the summer months, and with that comes those seeking the culinary delight that is crayfish. Unfortunately, this results in many crayfish being taken from inside the reserve.”

Independent studies have shown that the Coromandel coastline holds 1.7 crayfish per 500m², compared to the inside of the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve with 7.5 crayfish per 500m².  However, inside the reserve, legal crayfish numbers are also declining faster than the numbers of undersize crayfish. Dwindling numbers are a sign that illegal fishing is putting pressure on the reserve and impacting the local crayfish population.

The boundaries of the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve is marked on nearly all modern GPS units, and demarcated on online maps, signage at local boat ramps and pamphlets available from the Whitianga DOC office and information centres/i-SITES on the Coromandel Peninsula. The physical boundaries of the reserve are marked by large yellow markers. In the ocean, the boundaries are more often than not marked by a line of crayfish pot marker buoys.

The crayfish population in the area known as CRA 2 (Waipu through the Bay of Plenty to the East Cape) has declined in recent years and is now classified in the Hauraki Gulf as functionally extinct. According to DOC, the pressures of recreational and commercial fishing have had a major part to play in this decline.

DOC uses GPS coordinates to determine if crayfish pots have been set within a marine reserve boundary. If a pot (including the buoy and line) is found inside the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine reserve, it will be collected by a DOC ranger and held at Whitianga DOC office until the owner is contacted.

Factors to consider when dropping your crayfish pots to ensure they don’t end up inside the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve are the rise and fall of the tide, wind, swell and direction of the currents. All pots that found near the boundary with no named ownership will be reported to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

DOC takes the protection of marine reserves and the wildlife that live within them very seriously. They are actively investigating illegal activity and will be prosecuting those in breach of the law. Anyone caught removing anything from a marine reserve can be prosecuted under the Marine Reserves Act 1971 and faces imprisonment of up to three months, a fine not exceeding $10,000 or both. Commercial operators are liable to imprisonment of up to three months, a fine not exceeding $250,000 or both.

DOC would like to urge locals and visitors to the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine reserve to stay vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour. If you see someone dropping a crayfish pot within the reserve or any illegal activity, phone 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

Pictured: Crayfish numbers in the Te-Whnganui-A-Hei Marine Reserves are dwindling. Photo by Ryan Hansen.


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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.