Fishery officers are using digital technology to protect New Zealand’s fishery resources during Auckland’s COVID-19 restrictions.
During the first lockdown in 2020, fishery officers were able to work as per normal, but that wasn’t the case during the recent extended lockdown because of the more infectious Delta strain.
‘Delta has certainly changed the way we work. Fishery officers are no different to other workers in that we’re a group of people who have had to adapt so that we can continue to protect the fishing resources,’ said MPI North Harbour team leader Glen Blackwell.
‘While we couldn’t be out there on the water or along the coasts in person, we were still able to monitor commercial fishing vessels through our use of the Waka Haurapa system – it’s a digital system which allows us to see where the fleet is and what they’re catching through electronic reporting.’
He said working with Police helped them keep on top of any potential poaching problems.
‘Reports of people taking shellfish from closed areas or set netting in places they shouldn’t, increased during the lockdown period and having daily contact with our colleagues in Police was essential,’ he said.
‘During Alert Level 4 restrictions, Police would act on our behalf when some people attempted to fish in areas that were closed. There seemed to be a feeling from some people that because MPI wasn’t physically checking these closed areas, they might get away with fishing there, but that wasn’t the case.’
The twenty fishery officers in the Auckland region have taken the additional precaution of being paired up in their own bubbles under Level 3 conditions.
‘Our staff are 100% on board with wearing masks and gloves. We have a responsibility to take care of the resources, but we also need to protect ourselves and the public from COVID-19. People sometimes appear surprised to see us out there in masks and gloves,’ Glen Blackwell said, and added that fishery officers have been flat out since restrictions were relaxed to allow recreational fishing.
‘It’s been very busy. Fishing has been a popular recreational activity during Alert Level 3. On the first Saturday alone after people were let out of the lockdown, there was a queue of about 3km to the Kawakawa Bay boat ramps. This has continued, in that we are finding big queues at most boat ramps we patrol every weekend,’ he said.
‘We’re proud to be doing our jobs, and the current situation doesn’t change that sentiment. Our fishery officers gain a lot of satisfaction from making a genuine difference out there, whether it’s through explaining the rules or enforcing them’
Auckland fishery officers Gemma Ramsay and Melanie Hayden. Image: MPI