The Ministry for Primary Industries was not especially surprised that the sight of fishing on a grand scale off Whangaroa Harbour over the last had upset at least one local man, but the activity complained of was entirely legal.

Doug Kinnon said on Facebook that he had been game fishing off Whangaroa when he saw three "giant factory ships" with spotter planes, one also having its own helicopter.

"They raced to the fish school after the plane dropped green dye in the water to confuse the tuna, then dropped a dory that pulled a big bag net around the school, that was about 10 acres or more in area, then hauled it all on board," he said.

"A hundred tonnes of bait, low commercial-value fish vacuumed from the inshore grounds. This all took about a hour, then they steamed to the next school.


"No wonder the recreational guys are worried. If this carries on the sports fishing will die like it did in the '80s, and millions in tourism will disappear from Northland."

Doubtless Bay woman Danielle Collings witnessed the same sight outside Doubtless Bay on Saturday, and she too was unimpressed.

"I'm straight out from Doubtless Bay, and three boats, a plane and a helicopter are out here. I can still see land," she said.

"The chopper is flying all around, and I saw a pod of dolphins in a huge hurry, racing away from the ships.

"Disgusting that this is right on our doorstep."

The MPI's Fisheries team manager for the upper North Island, Steve Rudsdale, said Ms Collings' comments had been "followed up" and there was no reason to believe that the vessels or the helicopter were operating illegally. Nor was the catch volume illegal.

A tuna boat and a helicopter working in unison outside Doubtless Bay on Saturday. Photo / Danielle Collings
A tuna boat and a helicopter working in unison outside Doubtless Bay on Saturday. Photo / Danielle Collings

Regular Navy patrols, monitored wharf unloads, unannounced inspections and desktop audits were all use to ensure vessels obeyed the rules, he said.

"The vessels were not fishing within exclusions zones [bays and harbours]. Furthermore, the fish species targeted by purse seiners are pelagic, and are commonly found in the warmer currents off shore," Mr Rudsdale added.


"The activity of the helicopter was, similarly, not illegal. Dye is commonly used in the method of purse seining. Large vessels, planes, helicopters and dye are all common practices in this method of fishing."

This type of fishing was seasonal and a continuation of existing routines and schedules, he said.

The fishing method and the locations of the vessels were not new. This activity happened every year, and had been happening for many years.

The public could be assured that any non-complaint activity would be dealt with in the appropriate way.