Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mike Butler: Bringing paua to the people

News that prisoners freed on temporary release from the Hawke’s Bay Prison near Hastings have been caught illegally taking seafood from a marine reserve while taking part in a rehabilitation programme is a reminder of sorry relationship between people and paua in the bay.

Spokespeople from the prison and the hapless social service provider were in the hot seat on One News claiming that they went to the Te Angiangi Marine Reserve by mistake. Maybe the inmates and their caregivers were all illiterate because the sign on the beach, clearly visible to all viewers of One News, said that no seafood could be touched.

“They were looking for the part of the beach where the marine reserve stopped”, one spokesperson said. Was she clutching at straws or diving for cover?

Corrections claimed that it was rehabilitation and I guess one line of argument could hold that after all the crims had done their time and were being socialised into the skills needed to live in an area of New Zealand where plundering paua is as Kiwi as KFC on benefit day (hint of sarcasm).

This was not the first embarrassing seafood gaffe for local law enforcers, prison staff, and social service providers.

A Government-appointed guardian of a Maori customary food gathering area in part of Hawke’s Bay faced charges for obstructing and making a false or misleading statement to fisheries officers, according to the Hawke’s Bay Today on February 24, 2010. The guardian had issued a food-gathering permit that had been allegedly altered without permission. On board the 14-foot aluminium boat used by the customary fishers, officers said they found 59 rock lobster, 51 of which were undersized, and 384 kina.

The guardian had earlier been pictured in a Corrections newsletter two years previously with a local MP as part of an “innovative” scheme in which eight offenders served part of their community sentences patrolling Hawke’s Bay’s northern beaches to stop the taking of undersize paua.

Paua plundering started to become more frequently around the time Work and Income started funding dive courses about 20 years ago. Here are some of the seizures that have hit the headlines.

MAF reported on April 9, 2009, that honorary fishery officers seized 177 paua at Mangakuri and a further 55 undersized paua at Blackhead Light, while Napier fishery officers caught another fisher the previous week with 80 paua.

The largest haul of 555 undersized paua and a 4x4 vehicle were seized when Ministry of Fisheries staff and Police from Waipukurau and Porangahau apprehended three divers at Mangakuri Beach, MAF reported on November 19, 2010.

A Hastings fast-food worker was convicted and had his Mercedes confiscated after being caught with undersized paua outside a takeaway shop, according to the Hawke’s Bay Today on August 26, 2011. A Chinese national, aged 24, was found with a haul of 28 paua, of which 23 were smaller than the legal limit. He was fined $500, ordered court costs of $132 and made an order for the forfeiture of his 1995 Mercedes-Benz Elegance.

Fishery officers seized a vehicle and 175 undersized paua from two men returning from Akitio Beach, according to the Hawke’s Bay Today on September 20, 2011. Officers made the seizure the previous week after searching the men's vehicle on the outskirts of Dannevirke. Dive gear was discovered in their vehicle along with paua, one of which measured only 39mm. The minimum legal size is 125mm in length.

This whole business is extremely frustrating for the local iwi.

The Ngati Kahungunu iwi in Hawke's Bay last year brought dozens of net sacks, each containing about 1000 juvenile paua from Te Kaha in Eastern Bay of Plenty, and planted them in rocky areas at three beaches, Waimarama, Pourerere and Porangahau, according to Radio NZ. Small handfuls of baby paua were carefully placed under crevices or rock ledges in water between one and two metres deep.

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