Bream Bay man Eric Hansen is a voluntary fisheries officer. He writes about the work of many volunteers who are helping protect Northland's fish and shellfish resource.
It's an unpaid voluntary role, but honorary fishery officers play an important part in patrolling Northland's coastline and helping preserve our fisheries.
Honorary fishery officers (HFOs) form another group of dedicated New Zealanders who volunteer their time in the service of their communities. They are volunteer warranted officers who work alongside full-time Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) fishery officers, helping recreational fishers understand rules and regulations. They provide an important community service through their unpaid work.
In Northland there are 15 HFOs; nine based in the Whangarei MPI office, and six in the Kaitaia office.
HFOs are highly motivated people who are committed to assisting with the sustainability of New Zealand's fisheries. While their reasons for joining are varied, a common thread is their desire to help preserve the fisheries for future generations. As one HFO put it, "You can talk about preserving the environment, or do something about it. I chose to do something about it."
Fully trained HFOs have similar powers to full-time, paid officers, including the authority to search, question and seize. To become a warranted HFO, a person has to complete comprehensive training and must pass several exams.
HFO duties are a mix of education and compliance. A key task is educating people about fishing rules and encouraging voluntary compliance. This is done through attending public events such as galas and market days, talking to school children, handing out pamphlets, and talking with recreational fishers at boat ramps and beaches.
Compliance duties involve conducting land and water-based patrols to check that fishers are following the rules, as well as detecting and apprehending offenders and helping mount a successful prosecution where appropriate. HFOs are also involved in investigating suspicious behaviour and gathering information on people suspected of breaking fishing rules and regulations.
Most HFOs spend between 100 and 200 hours a year in their volunteer work. Last year HFOs around New Zealand conducted more than 30,000 inspections and caught more than 1000 amateur fishers breaking the law. As such, the voluntary work done by HFOs is recognised as being a vital part of MPI's work in preserving our fish resources.