Days after 'sacking' a volunteer fishery officer, the Ministry of Primary Industries backtracked and called it a "stand down" pending a full inquiry.

The fisheries officer Chris, who asked that his surname not be used, was initially stood down, then stripped of his warrant for not backing out of an inspection after he was allegedly threatened with a bait knife near Whangarei Heads on December 6.

He and a trainee fisheries officer were asked to inspect a group of eight to 10 people who had allegedly been gathering sacks of kai moana from the area for three days last month.

A man from the group allegedly threatened to murder Chris, 75, after he told the group some of their catch was illegal.


MPI said he should have withdrawn immediately but Chris argued he could not, given the situation.

"Any move could have turned the threats into action. My training taught me not to panic, stay calm and never to turn your back on a knife. My only weapon was quiet diplomacy, '' he said.

"I therefore tried reasoning with one of the group, a more sensible person and possibly their leader, eventually calming everyone down, signing their permit, shaking hands and
departing— very relieved we had got away totally unharmed, if somewhat traumatised."

Otangarei man Parakoti Engu was arrested on December 7 and charged with threatening to kill and possession of an offensive weapon. His case is still before the Whangarei District Court.

Without any warning, Chris received a phone call from the MPI's Whangarei office on December 8 saying he was stood down with immediate effect.

"I was absolutely flabbergasted and hurt. I have been putting in over 100 hours a month, totally unpaid, had just faced a death threat and all the thanks I got was suspension, not even a de-brief, which is standard procedure after such an event.

"I could not believe it. I felt totally and utterly let down. Yes, there may be better ways of handling dangerous situations, but circumstances alter cases and in this case I did my very best, avoided any injuries and the alleged offender has been arrested."

Days later he was told he was sacked, but a national manager phoned him two days later to say that had been substituted to a "stand down" pending a full inquiry into the handling of the event.


"I am relieved that at last a little common sense seems to be showing. I love my job and work hard at it. I do not wish to lose it," Chris said.

"The finest part of my work is when a youngster runs up to me in a lifejacket, excitedly telling me what he has caught. That is the future. That's what it should all be about.''

MPI refused to comment on the specifics of the case leading to the withdrawal of Chris' warrant.

Chris hopes the matter is resolved favourably and soon.