A Canterbury fisherman has been prosecuted and fined $1000 after fishing in an illegal zone designed to protect endangered Hector's dolphins.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) today said the case of 45-year-old Jason Hutton, convicted at Christchurch District Court, shows its zero tolerance approach to people caught fishing in areas closed to protect threatened marine life.

MPI spokesman Howard Reid says Hutton's offending was uncovered in late December when MPI fishery officers responded to sightings of two buoys in Barry's Bay in Akaroa Harbour.

"Our officers were keen to see what was going on because set netting is banned in this particular area from 1 October to 31 March every year to help protect the endangered Hector's dolphins," Reid said.


The officers were able to get a close look at the buoys and establish that they were attached to a set net. They seized the net for evidential purposes.

The next day, the officers saw a boat in the banned set netting area.

Once the boat came to shore, Hutton who was driving the boat, admitted to the officers that he was looking for his set net.

When he was shown the set net the fishery officers had retrieved he identified it as his.

Reid says the fisherman said he was unaware of the set net prohibition in the area, however, he had been inspected numerous times in the past when fishing in the area for crayfish and had received advice about recreational fishing rules in the area.

"All fishers must make an effort to be aware of the limitations for use of set nets. These rules are in place to help protect these particular dolphins," Reid said.

"Our fishery officers are happy to help people to understand the rules and to make sure they are ready to go fishing in line with the rules.

"I appreciate the efforts of the person who took the time to call in with their concern about this net. As a result, we were able to remove the threat the set net posed and to identify and penalise the person who had set it. We are always keen for people to call our hotline, 0800 4POACHER, when they are concerned about potential breaches of the fisheries rules."

MPI and the Department of Conservation (DoC) are currently consulting on a range of options to improve the way threats to Hector's and Māui dolphins are being managed by the Hector's and Māui Dolphin Threat Management Plan.

MPI is also investigating another case of alleged illegal set netting in a closed area also designed to protect Hector's dolphins at Birdlings Flat Beach, east of Christchurch.

Hector's dolphin, named after Sir James Hector who was the curator of the Colonial Museum in Wellington, now Te Papa, is one of the rarest marine dolphins in the world.

Once found all around the New Zealand coastline, Forest & Bird says the mammals have now declined to just above 7000 individuals.