Set netting once again became a legal activity in Arkles Bay when the ban put in place nine years ago was lifted at midnight on Easter Monday.
This means that set netters can fish in the bay until Labour Weekend, when a summer-only ban on the practice comes back into force.
Arkles Bay residents, together with Crs Wayne Walker and John Watson and local board members who opposed the lifting of the ban, are bracing themselves, fearing a return of the problems that lead to a blanket ban on set netting imposed by the former Rodney District Council in 2007.
The issues included large numbers of set netters, because of the adjacent marine reserve, coupled with confrontational behaviour and dangers posed to the public and wildlife by the nets.
However, in the lead up to the ban being lifted, Auckland Council offered assurances that there will be action if set netting does not comply with the Public Safety & Nuisance Bylaw or fishing regulations.
Cr Calum Penrose, who chairs Council’s Regulatory and Bylaws Committee, told last month’s Hibiscus & Bays Local Board meeting that residents have nothing to fear.
Local board chair Julia Parfitt said that the key question for the community is: “does the bylaw have any teeth?” In response Cr Penrose said, “I reassure you that if an issue arises at Arkles, you will get the right levels of service”.
At the same time, Cr Penrose admitted that Council is seeking more proactive support from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), whose job it is to respond to any breaches of fishery regulations.
Cr Penrose said that MPI representatives who met with Council in February “admitted they dropped the ball in parts of Auckland” when it comes to enforcement of fishery rules such as catch sizes. “We believe MPI could be doing more and will encourage them to do more,” Cr Penrose said.
He said MPI staff will attend the Regulatory & Bylaws Committee meeting this month (May 10) to tell councillors “how they intend to lift their game”.
He said MPI will actively recruit “honorary fishery officers” on the Hibiscus Coast. Essentially these are volunteers who support full time fisheries officers and have similar powers.
An MPI spokesperson says fishery officers are aware that there may be an increased risk at Arkles and that they will continue to routinely patrol there.
Police handle any issues of anti-social behaviour and accompany Council staff on any after dark callouts.
Council’s licensing and compliance services general manager, Grant Barnes, says staff can issue a warning, table a bylaw notice, seize items and prosecute offenders, but that education is the first priority. “Our teams have a jacket and a shirt. There is no truncheon and no means of forcing compliance,” he says.
Council has a 24/7 callout service but there is a strict definition of what constitutes a breach of the bylaw. Callers will be asked: “is a real and actual nuisance being caused by the set net, is there aggression or intimidating behaviour, is a vehicle being used on the beach, is the net causing an obstruction, or does it present a real safety risk?” If the answer to all those is ‘no’, a legal activity is taking place.
Bylaw and compliance manager Max Wilde says that the incidence of anyone getting tangled in a net is very low but the perception of the danger is high.
The assurances failed to impress local Crs Wayne Walker and John Watson. They are worried about the impact on the enjoyment of the beach for the general public and possible confrontations. “With the best will in the world, you have a battle on your hands,” Cr Walker told the local board meeting.
Cr Watson says the compliance team is out of their depth. “We have been down this road before and we know they’re overstretched.”
Both Mr Wilde and Mr Barnes say it’s too early to tell what problems will arise, but they are aware and remain vigilant.
“We are ready for this,” Mr Barnes says.
For information about becoming an honorary fishery officer, which includes a commitment of 100 hours a year, phone 0800 008 333.
If you see someone who could be breaking the rules call MPI, 0800 476 224. Council’s 24/7 call centre number is 09 301 0101.
Call 111 if you feel unsafe, there are threats or aggressive behaviour.
What are the rules?
Set netting involves the use of a gill, or other net, set in the water with a weighted ground line, anchors or weights and surface floats.
The regulations are on the Ministry for Primary Industries’ website, mpi.govt.nz They include not using nets in a way that allows fish to be stranded by the falling tide.
Set nets must be marked, staking of nets is prohibited, nets must be less than 60m in length and placed more than 60m apart. There is a maximum of one net per person. Using baited nets is prohibited.
The Ministry also has a code of practice that advises set net fishers to avoid sites commonly used for other recreational activities. It also advises set net fishers to remain near their net and check it at frequent intervals and to avoid set netting overnight. However, these are not legal requirements.