Police were called after a man made a “phone threat” to bring a digger to a temporarily closed lake and remove boulders blocking jetty access so he could go fishing, an iwi leader says.
Police say they determined no threats were made during the call and that the caller was “expressing frustration” — “albeit quite colourfully” — and was now apologetic.
Tensions have been high in Rotorua after Biosecurity New Zealand closed Lake Ōkataina to boating and fishing throughout October, the start of the fishing season.
The closure, requested by local iwi, was to install protections to keep out invasive freshwater gold clams, first discovered in New Zealand in the Waikato River in May.
Eradication has never been achieved overseas but efforts have begun to stop the clams spreading from Waikato, where they were believed to have been for at least a couple of years.
Ngāti Tarāwhai Iwi Trust sought Ōkataina’s closure fearing the pest could hitch a ride from Waikato on a boat or gear and destroy the lake’s delicate ecosystem.
Following online threats last week to drop the clams into the lake, the trust hired security to guard it. It also put boulders at the jetty to stop boats using it during the closure.
Trust chairman Cyrus Hingston said police were called on Friday after Lakes Lodge Ōkataina’s manager received a “phone threat” to head to the lake with a group of people and a digger to remove the blockage so he could go fishing..
Hingston said the iwi reported the incident to the police and stepped up security to two contracted guards for the weekend “in order to protect our workers and our taonga”.
He said this week, one guard was stationed at the lake and another was on standby in case people became aggressive. The security guards also put up a temporary fence.
Hingston said some people of Ngāti Tarāwhai went to the lake on Sunday at different times to support the closure and “in case something terrible occurred”.
“We were warned that angry people would show up to the lake.”
Hingston said a small group of people arrived at the lake, expressed their “anger and frustration”, and then left.
He said there has been positive and negative reactions online to the iwi seeking the closure.
A group of Northland anglers who stayed at the lodge every year was “shocked” to see the jetty closed on arrival, unaware of the circumstance, Hingston said.
He said the group accepted the iwi’s decision and stayed, fishing on another lake. Hingston said the trust looked forward to them returning in the future.
The lodge manager, who did not provide her name, said the person who called told her to expect the group to arrive, and they would “come regardless of whether the lake was closed or not”.
She said the caller was “angry about the closure” but she did not feel fearful or that she was threatened directly. It was the only call she received.
A police spokeswoman said police received a report about a a threatening phone call to the lodge on Friday, but “determined no threats were made during the call” after speaking with the staff member and caller.
She said the caller “was expressing frustration” about the closure, “albeit quite colourfully”.
He was spoken to and advised that the manner and demeanour of his call were inappropriate, and he was apologetic, she said.
The lodge staff member was also given advice and police determined no further action was required.
She said police would respond to any disorder incidents and would not condone threatening or intimidating behaviour.
Issues related to the clams and lake closure were discussed at a Rotorua Lakes Council committee meeting on Wednesday.
On Monday, Fish & Game chief executive Corina Jordan told the Rotorua Daily Post it had staff at Lake Rotoiti and Lake Tarawera over the weekend, as usual for the trout fishing season opener.
She said its Eastern region chairman Ngahi Bidois stopped by Lake Ōkataina and was pleased to see anglers were respecting “the wishes of the local community” and fishing elsewhere.
“We share iwi concerns that this clam will spread across the country and understand why they sought the closure,” Jordan said.
Biosecurity New Zealand has said it has no plans to close other lakes but would consider requests, and is taking a range of actions aimed at preventing the clams’ spread.
Te Arawa Lakes Trust was considering a rāhui on all of Rotorua’s lakes to help safeguard them.
Cira Olivier is a social issues and breaking news reporter for NZME Bay of Plenty. She has been a journalist since 2019.