Saturday, 11 July 2020


Food for thought

The Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve is a great place to see fish in the marine environment. However, as more people visit the reserve, a problem is emerging that can cause serious issues for the fish, for swimmers and for snorkelers.

Feeding the fish is not a permitted activity in the marine reserve. The point of a marine reserve is to replicate the natural balance of local species playing their part in the New Zealand coastal ecosystem. Feeding the fish disturbs the natural environment and is an offence under the Marine Reserves Act.

Some people think that feeding the fish can only be good for them and must therefore be an acceptable activity in a marine reserve, perhaps even one that should be encouraged. It may seem like a harmless act, but feeding the fish bread, peas, bait or even kina can damage their health or change their behaviour.

In the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve the fish are already associating boats and snorkelers with food. Some boaties are even dumping fish waste and scallop shells in the reserve to attract the fish. People seem to think that unless fish are fed, they will not come close enough to be seen clearly. The fish become excited and push for a good position to receive the food, often in depths and habitats that are uncharacteristic. They become little more than circus animals. This spoils the opportunity for everyone to enjoy the experience of watching fish behaving naturally.

In a healthy marine reserve, adequate food is available and the fish have time to socialise and, if it is in their character, interact with humans. Blue cod are naturally inquisitive and snapper are shyer. Snapper behaviour does appear to be altered when they are fed by humans as they would normally keep their distance from swimmers and snorkellers. Although they are naturally aggressive feeders, they may mistake your fingers or earlobes for food.

The food offered is often not what the fish would eat naturally. People seldom consider if the food they are giving is good or harmful for the fish. It is unlikely that fish have the right digestive enzymes in their gut to break down and gain any benefit from any carbohydrates (bread, peas, but also found in some dog roll and cat biscuits). It may cause problems with digestion and the passing of waste. With all the “junk” food they may not have room for the foods that they normally eat and need for healthy lives.

Please note that there is no Department of Conservation-approved fish food.

If snapper are eating prepared meals, you are changing their natural food source, which causes the ecosystem to become unbalanced and alters the natural food chain. Their habitat is changing to the detriment of the “natural” environment.

The Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve was established to preserve and protect the fish’s natural habitat. The pubic have access and entry to the reserve so that they may enjoy the opportunity to study and observe fish in their natural habitat. Please enjoy, but remember do not feed the fish.

If you would like further information, please contact DOC on telephone (07) 869 5637 or visit


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