An "avoidable" death could happen if set netting in Bowentown and Waihī Beach continues, as sharks could "go from eating dead fish to maybe grabbing a couple of kids".
That's the view of Waihī Beach resident Joshua Mcclung, who represents a newly formed group of residents and holidaymakers concerned about the use of set nets in the area.
He believed concerns raised to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) were falling on "deaf ears" and from his perspective, there was "a real lack of urgency".
But MPI rejects these claims. It says it has recently noticed an increase in netting activity in the area and increased its frequency of patrols and compliance checks.
Mcclung said a rāhui on set netting was now pending after a hui at Ōtāwhiwhi Marae on Monday and this would be ratified at a hui on Saturday.
Kaelah Marlow, 19, of Hamilton, died after a shark attack off the beach at Bowentown on January 7 last year.
In Mcclung's view, some nets were being set illegally and some people would leave them "set permanently for days on end", sometimes not checking them regularly.
As a result, a "build-up" of dead fish would attract sharks.
"The problem is at Waihī Beach ... in between these nets you've got people swimming.
"We quite often see sharks getting around the nets and picking out fish and eating them."
Mcclung said, in his opinion: "Once [sharks] get in a feeding frenzy ... there's a very high risk that children could accidentally end up being bitten and attacked by the sharks while the sharks are pillaging the net."
He believed "it really is only a matter of time".
Mcclung said he and other locals had called MPI about the issue but from his perspective, it "often just falls on deaf ears".
In his view: "There's been this lack of urgency and a lack of care is what we've been picking up from MPI."
If set netting continued, Mcclung feared it would result in "multiple fatalities or [a] serious harm event".
He believed "a group of sharks are going to come in prowling into the nets and then they're going to see some little kids playing around ... and go from eating dead fish to maybe grabbing a couple of kids''.
"And that doesn't have to happen. This can be avoided," he said.
''What we cannot have is an avoidable fatality.''
Any attack would also ''ruin the reputation of this place for a lot of people".
Mcclung said he had approached people setting nets and educated them on how to set them properly.
He had spoken to other concerned locals and formed an "impromptu" group just before Christmas. The group carried out community patrols looking for set nets that had potentially been set illegally.
"A lot of people are upset and concerned about it but they don't really know what to do other than ring the MPI poacher hotline.''
Shark scientist Dr Riley Elliott said he "highly" urged the ministry to implement a set-net ban in the Bay of Plenty region and said the rules around set netting "definitely" had to change.
"I think it's a barbaric and unengaged way to harvest food and I don't think it should be allowed in any part of our coastline because clearly it so easily can kill endangered species, let alone other innocent creatures that they're not targeting. There's plenty of other ways to fish that don't result in the mortality of a whole bunch of by-catch."
Bowentown Boating and Sport Fishing Club Commodore Stu Curd said set netting appeared to be "organised" and it seemed there were about six or seven set nets out during the day, which was "normal", but at night they were "getting up to 40", which he believed there was "no need for".
In his view, the nets were not being illegally set.
Ministry for Primary Industries' Bay of Plenty district team leader fisheries compliance, Jodie Cole, said MPI rejected Mcclung's claims that calls "often just falls on deaf ears" and that "it's almost like it's too much hard work for them".
It also rejected the suggestion that there was a "lack of urgency and a lack of care".
"Despite putting the majority of our recent effort and resource into Bowentown, evidence shows the majority of nets inspected there are legal."
Cole said MPI staff had recently noticed an increase in netting activity in the area and increased its frequency of patrols and compliance checks.
Fisheries officers were out from early in the morning to 10pm on Sunday checking nets in the area to ensure they were set properly, legally and safely, she said.
On Monday, MPI had a meeting with about 20 local people to hear their concerns and to explain the legalities of set nets.
The meeting was attended by a representative from the Department of Conservation, a local police officer, a local kaumātua and hapū which was "very productive" and "looked at various options for the future", she said.
"Attendees at the hui remarked to fishery officers that they had noticed fewer set nets over the past few days."
Cole said MPI's committed fishery officers would continue to "regularly and proactively check for compliance at different times of day and act - through education, fines and/or prosecution - if breaches are detected".
MPI on set netting:
• Set netting is legal in New Zealand
• Poacher calls are being acted on as they are received
• Fishery officers prioritise calls and responses according to where risk is the biggest
• Despite putting the majority of our recent effort and resource into Bowentown, evidence shows the majority of nets inspected there are legal
• It is good practice for people to check or empty their nets on a regular basis
• MPI encourages a short soak time as this increases the chance of unwanted or undersized fish and mammals being released alive and unharmed
• Unfortunately, unintended by-catch can occur – and MPI strongly encourages set netters to inspect their nets regularly
• It is also good practice to set nets in places that are easily reachable in a range of sea conditions.
Anyone with concerns is encouraged to report suspicious behaviour to 0800 4 POACHER.
Rules for set netting
• Nets must not be baited.
• Set nets must not be longer than 60m.
• Nets must not be set within 60m of another net.
• Each end of a set net must have a surface float marked permanently and legibly with the fisher's initials and surname (only one float is required for fyke nets).
• You must not use nets in a way that causes fish to be stranded by the falling tide.
• Only one set net (maximum 60m) and one bait net (maximum 10m with a mesh size of 50mm or less) can be carried on a boat at the same time.
• You cannot use stakes to secure nets.
• No person may set or possess more than one set net.
• Nets (or setups with more than one net) must not extend across more than one quarter the width of any river, stream, channel, bay, or sound.
• Set nets are restricted in some areas.
What is a set net?
"Set netting" is fishing using a net that is anchored to the seafloor with weights. It is a commonly used fishing method around New Zealand.