An ocean conservationist instrumental in setting up the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve has welcomed the more than $25,000 fines and costs imposed on a commercial fisherman caught fishing in the prohibited area.

Wade Doak said the sentencing of Ty Thomas McQuarrie in the Whangarei District Court on Friday vindicated Northlanders who over the years have been concerned about fishing in the area which resulted in a near-depletion of fish stocks.

McQuarrie, 26, of Kaitaia admitted to one charge of being a commercial fisherman who took fish by long line within one nautical mile from the mean high water mark of the reserve. McQuarrie was the skipper of Extreme Limits, a commercial fishing vessel using bottom longlining. The vessel is owned by Wild Fish (NZ).

Court documents filed by the Ministry of Primary Industries stated McQuarrie began setting a bottom long line from the vessel north of the Poor Knights Islands about 3.30am on April 7, 2015. At the conclusion of the set, the ministry said he had deployed 4500 hooks.

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About 7am, he began hauling the line and was two thirds of the way through when a dive charter boat operator saw him. The operator recorded his vessel's position relevant to that of Extreme Limits. He also spoke to one of the crew on board Extreme Limits and was told they were doing nothing.

Another dive charter operator heading from Tutukaka to the Poor Knights also suspected Extreme Lights was inside the restricted area.

McQuarrie continued hauling in fish, despite warnings about being in the marine reserve and berthed at Tutukaka later that day, where the catch was unloaded and sold.

An investigation by Fishery officers found Extreme Limits was between 700 and 800 metres inside the commercial longline restricted area which is one nautical mile around the islands.

McQuarrie told MPI the GPS data from the dive charter operators did not appear to have been calibrated and may have been unreliable. MPI then obtained a report from a geodetic surveyor who concluded the GPS systems were correct.

McQuarrie pleaded guilty and said although he did not intend to fish inside the prohibited area, he had failed to take all reasonable precautions to prevent an offence from occurring.

In court on Friday, MPI prosecutor Angus Wood said McQuarrie was well aware of the prohibited area as he had fished in the area previously and had electronic devices on board.

Judge Keith de Ridder said it was not a case of Extreme Limits inadvertently drifting in a prohibited area.

McQuarrie was fined $7500 and ordered to pay $3200, which was proceeds from the sale of fish, plus a further $15,000 in redemption fees.

The redemption fees are paid to MPI for the possible return of Extreme Limits to its owners, who were not at fault in McQuarrie's offending.

The vessel is worth $330,000.

Conservationist Wade Doak said: "One episode like that shows what [would happen] if it was not severely policed."