New Zealand's marine habitats are rich and complex, and our marine species are special – and sometimes tasty.

It's the tastiness that is the problem.

Pāua, whitebait, shellfish, kina, crayfish and fish like blue cod are illegally removed from our marine reserves with frustrating frequency.

All marine life in marine reserves is protected under law.


The main aim of a marine reserve is to create a preserved area with unaltered marine life and habitats, to provide a useful comparison for scientists to study and people to enjoy.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) takes a hard-line on fishing in marine reserves, which has seen a series of recent convictions and apprehensions around the country.

Since July last year, we've had 11 successful marine compliance convictions.

We currently have eight cases before the courts and 12 more pending, which are likely to result in prosecution.

These numbers don't include cases where the defendant completed diversion – a scheme which deals with offenders outside of the court process, and could result in community service, restitution, or treatment for drug or alcohol problems.

We are not mucking around when it comes to marine reserve compliance.

New Zealand is facing a biodiversity crisis and DoC and others are trying to safeguard and protect our marine environments.

We are not prepared to see good conservation efforts be jeopardised by individuals' selfish and illegal activity.


It's frustrating for DoC to see people undo good work by prioritising personal gain over the future of New Zealand's marine ecosystems.

I understand and appreciate that there are cultural elements to New Zealand's fishing culture, and that fishing is a hugely popular pastime, I do.

Just not in our marine reserves.

To lay it all on the table: marine reserves are Type 1 Protected Areas.

DoC is responsible for implementing, managing and monitoring New Zealand's 44 marine reserves, which have our highest level of marine protection established under the Marine Reserves Act 1971.

If you are caught fishing illegally in a marine reserve, penalties could include up to three months in prison, fines of up to $10,000 and possibly forfeiture of boats and fishing equipment.

There are other fishing restrictions, and you can learn more about these by having a look on the DoC and MPI websites. We encourage people to do a little bit of research before they head out.

DoC has agreed to train eight Honorary Warranted Officers to support us with marine reserve compliance in Auckland and Wellington. We welcome the involvement of more people with a compliance or DoC background.

They would go through our internal training programme and an externally-provided Officer Safety Training, before being warranted to deal with breaches in marine reserves.

We take our responsibilities under the law very seriously, as do the New Zealand police.

In the past year DoC has increased its compliance activity, in line with a new National Compliance Strategy.

We are dedicating more hours to this work and the chances are higher that if you poach in marine reserves, you'll get caught.

The co-ordinated effort between DoC, MPI, the NZ Police, the Navy and members of the public has seen a swift and thorough response to illegal fishing.

In Gisborne over the summer, 19 people were caught allegedly poaching from Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve.

The illegal haul included 55 crayfish and 621 kina.

Taking this much seafood from the ecosystem threatens its ability to sustain itself, impacts the natural food chain and increases pressure on endangered species.

We've also recently apprehended two pāua poachers at Taputeranga Marine Reserve in Wellington and prosecuted four Canterbury men for illegally fishing in Pōhatu Marine Reserve on Banks Peninsula.

Poaching is a never-ending battle and the numbers are staggering.

In most instances where conviction is successful, evidence and support from members of the public is crucial.

At Kāpiti Marine Reserve, we're working with very passionate locals.

Compliance reporting has increased in this area thanks to the diligence of the Guardians of Kāpiti Marine Reserve, who are assisting our rangers with eyes on the water.

We've recently increased our patrols in this area and are going to support the Guardians group as they bring in web cameras to more easily detect illegal fishing in this reserve.

New Zealand has watching eyes all over the country; members of the public who are just as committed to protecting our marine reserves as we are at DoC.

Anyone who spots suspicious activity in a marine reserve including the removal of fish or shellfish should call (DOCHOTline) 0800 362 468.

Please don't shrug off marine compliance. Make sure you're aware of what is and isn't allowed before you head out, and if you see something suspicious, report it.

New Zealand cannot afford not to take illegal fishing seriously.

Lou Sanson is the Director-General of the Department of Conservation.