On patrol in paradise

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Telephone: 029 894 0328
The dinghy stands off while MPI compliance officers check the catch of recreatio

Few places in New Zealand rival southern Fiordland for remoteness and effort to get to. The stunning scenery and fantastic fishing, hunting and tourism experiences make it a sought after destination for those with the time and inclination. You’d think once you’d arrived there’d be no chance of anyone checking your day’s catch, vessel hull or a ranger asking for your hunting permit. You’d be wrong.

Compliance staff from the Department of Conservation (DOC), Environment Southland (ES) and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) were patrolling for 4 days in April. Agency staff were checking that all boats were free of marine pests, commercial and recreational fishers were keeping to the rules, charter and tourism operators were meeting their consent requirements and that hunters had permits.

Staying on board DOC’s Deep Cove-based vessel Southern Winds, staff from the three agencies:

  • Inspected 30 vessels
  • Spoke to 156 commercial and recreational fishers
  • Did 26 biosecurity dives on vessel hulls and high risk sites
  • Spoke to 13 hunting parties
  • Detected 3 fisheries infringements.

The multi-agency patrol supports the work of the Fiordland Marine Guardians to maintain and enhance the quality of Fiordland’s marine environment and wider fishery experience.

MPI District Compliance Manager Southland Reece Murphy says any boat on the water from Doubtful Sound to Preservation Inlet during the patrol was very likely checked.

“It’s a special area, above and below the water, and the Fiordland Marine Guardians have recognised that by advocating and implementing tailored regulations that protect the environment and sustain the fishery, particularly in the inner fiords.

“We’re very happy to support the Guardians, and it’s important to remind users that it doesn’t matter where and how remote you are, there are still rules and people around to check them.”

MPI officers came across a few fishing breaches mainly to do with parties having scuba gear and paua together on a vessel, which is a no-no, but the rest of the recreational and commercial fishers were playing by the rules.

Charter boats offering hunting, dive and fishing trips allow many first time and repeat visitors to experience Fiordland. Each boat is allotted areas to operate in to ensure parts of Fiordland are not over-run. This is part of ES’s harbour master and coastal consent role, and an ES compliance officer was checking that charter boats were sticking to the areas listed in their consents.

The mountainous nature of Fiordland continues underwater where there are deep canyons, and steep pinnacles that almost reach the surface. Several metres of tannin stained fresh water sits on top of the sea water, creating a low-light environment where fragile corals and other delicate deep water plants and animals flourish at far shallower depths than usual.

“There’s nowhere else like it in New Zealand and we need people to do all they can to keep it free from marine pests that are invading and smothering other harbours in New Zealand. Some of these pests could make a mess of Fiordland’s marine environment and have a negative effect on fisheries if they got established.” says MPI Biosecurity Senior Adviser Jen Brunton.

Jen grew up in Martins Bay and Te Anau, but now works in Wellington, and enjoys coming back to Fiordland for work.

Jen and ES Biosecurity Officer Shaun Cunningham dived the hulls of any boats that were visiting Fiordland from other ports to check they we free of any unwanted marine pest fouling, as required by Fiordland’s Marine Biosecurity Plan.

Under the strategy, skippers are required to:

  • ensure the vessel's hull and marine equipment is clean and free of fouling
  • have a good, thorough and functioning antifoul coating
  • clean and air-dry any marine equipment to be used in Fiordland waters e.g. ropes, pots, fishing gear, kayaks

MPI, DOC, ES and the Ministry for the Environment all help the Fiordland Marine Guardians in a biosecurity protection programme.

Much of the focus is to try and locally eliminate the introduced pest seaweed Undaria pinnatifida (Undaria) which was found at Sunday Cove in Breaksea Sound five years ago. Undaria has already taken hold in waters around Bluff and in other ports where it is muscling out native seaweeds.

A team of divers work to eliminate Undaria from Sunday Cove every month to ensure this invasive seaweed doesn’t spread throughout Fiordland. Biosecurity surveillance dives of popular mooring sites and structures are also undertaken to monitor and ensure other parts of Fiordland remain free of marine pests.

With Fiordland National Park as the backdrop, and steaming through or past 10 marine reserves, the DOC staff were always going to be busy.

No one was found fishing in marine reserves, but not all hunters that were checked had valid permits. Conservation rangers inspected the network of huts, checking the remaining sewage capacity in the toilets, among other tasks.

For the joint-agency patrol DOC provided the vessel, the skipper, a four metre inflatable dinghy for boarding other boats and patrolling the shore, a dinghy operator and all the logistics, which makes these patrols possible.

Further patrols are planned, so when you’re next in Fiordland, you may just run into one.


Top image – The dinghy stands off while MPI compliance officers check the catch of recreational fishers in Doubtful Sound.

Below left – Jen Brunton, left, and Sean Cunningham are part of a project to locally eliminate the pest seaweed Undaria and protect Fiordland waters from other marine pests.

Below right – An MPI compliance officer climbs aboard to check the catch records of a commercial cray-fishing vessel while divers in the dinghy prepare to inspect the hull for marine pests.



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