Two Havelock North men have pleaded guilty to fishing illegally in Te Angiangi Marine Reserve in CHB and each ordered to pay $750 in restitution.
The two men are the most recent to plead guilty, after the Department of Conservation brought charges against seven people late last year for fishing illegally within the marine reserve between Blackhead and Aramoana beaches in CHB.
At the time, DOC Hawke's Bay Operations Manager Connie Norgate expressed frustration over the sharp increase of alleged poaching cases.
She said having seven cases of illegal fishing in Te Angiangi Marine Reserve before the courts at the same time was especially high for one of the smaller reserves under DOC's care.
"It's not just about identifying the problems, but also coming up with solutions to these pervasive, and intergenerational issues ... It's only going to work if the community puts forward ideas."
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The department said it ensured adequate signage was in place at marine reserves to alert the public to rules and regulations.
All seven offenders were charged under either the Marine Reserves Act or Fisheries Act, with penalties for taking marine life from a marine reserve including up to three months in prison, fines of up to $10,000 and possible forfeiture of boats and fishing equipment.
"Marine reserves are fully protected areas," Connie Norgate says. "They help the ecosystems within them return to their former glory."
The reserve is regularly patrolled by local rangers but anyone who spots suspicious activity including the removal of fish or shellfish, should call the 24-hour DOC emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
News of the men's guilty pleas came after an open day held at Te Angiangi on Easter Sunday heard that it was the most poached reserve in the country.
Around 80 people gathered at the Aramoana Woolshed for the open day, organised by the Aramoana Environmental and Education Charitable Trust (AEECT), to share ideas on how to best protect and promote the marine reserve.
The trust was formed around the time when the cliffs of Te Angiangi were left bare following a bad storm in April 2011, when 550mm of rainfall and a 4.6 earthquake caused them to collapse.
On Sunday meeting facilitator and Hawke's Bay Regional Council Resource Management Group Manager Iain Maxwell said he was very impressed with how engaged the community was in protecting its natural environment.
"It's not just about identifying the problems, but also coming up with solutions to these pervasive, and intergenerational issues," Mr Maxwell said. "It's only going to work if the community puts forward ideas."
Those at the open day suggested ideas on everything from predator management, to beach access, to preventing speeding in the quiet coastal area.
Locals were reminded they were the caretakers of this "wonderful place" by Shoal Bay representative Tony Mossman, while fifth generation local farmer Rob Eagles said most farmers want to leave their land better than it was when they arrived.
Educating the next generation was a key part of the discussion, with Omakere School teacher Samantha Bell explaining how their students helped with planting, and the learning opportunities it provided.
"The children are developing the understanding to be the next generation caregivers of the coast."
Another big issue facing the area was poaching.
"Te Angiangi reserve is the most accessible, but most poached reserve in the country", AEECT general manager and Department of Conservation marine ranger Rod Hansen said. They had a zero tolerance to poaching, he said, but some people were still ignoring the many no-poaching signs throughout the area.
The group also suggested ideas for how the nearby Ouepoto Reserve could be enhanced — from building up the sand dunes which had been worn away by human impact, to continuing conservation measures which had helped improve bird life populations.
Trust chair Richard Lee said he was very pleased with how the meeting had gone — with more than 20 ideas to be consulted on.
He said it was encouraging to see how many children had been brought to the meeting.
"It's a generational thing. They're the ones who are going to have to carry this work on," he said.
"Yesterday and today are important, but what we do tomorrow is the really important thing."