The Ministry for Primary Industries' national network of Honorary Fishery Officers (HFOs) are among the thousands of volunteers being honoured as part of National Volunteers Week, which was last week.
HFOs were first introduced in Auckland in 1967 as a way for people in the community to donate their time to help make a difference to local fisheries. Fifty-five years later there are about 180 HFOs working in communities around the country providing advice, conversation and a watchful eye in the name of sustainability.
For some, like Nelson-based Rochelle Holden, it has opened doors to a new career. She is one of several to have made the switch to warranted fishery officer following service as an HFO.
"I've had a few careers including nearly a decade as a police officer. I've been a fishery officer for nearly two years. It was a big leap in training because HFOs generally work with recreational fishing rules whereas my new role also deals with commercial fishing. I do think my background in police gave me some great transferable skills," she says.
Neil Cudby was a marine mechanic with his own business for over 20 years. He also has a military background. A desire to do some voluntary frontline work with a compliance angle led him to becoming an HFO in 2020.
"I wanted to do something that would play on my interests — fishing, diving and hunting. Being an HFO showed me I could make a difference helping protect fisheries. I really enjoyed working with other HFOs and fulltime fishery officers.
"It gave me a sense of what's happening and when a position came up in 2021 to become a fishery officer, I put everything into getting it," he says.
Auckland MPI regional manager fisheries compliance Andre Espinoza became an HFO in 2007 while working as a mechanic in Thames.
"I spent five years as an HFO working across Waikato and Bay of Plenty. I was always keen on fishing and the ocean. My favourite childhood memories were fishing with my grandfather off a wharf in Tauranga.
"Being an HFO encouraged my interest in protecting the resources for the future. I became a fishery officer in 2012 and have been fortunate to have progressed through to management," he says.
Over half a century ago, becoming an HFO was straight forward and usually came about because of a member of the public expressing their concerns about fishing resources potentially being stripped at their local favourite spot and their willingness to help.
"They'd be provided a notebook and asked to report back to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as it was called then, on what they saw, which would be followed up by employed fishery officers," says MPI director of compliance services Gary Orr.
These days each HFO contributes a minimum of 100 hours voluntary work a year to looking after recreational fishing areas. They're put through intensive training, wear a uniform, and have a warrant under the Fisheries Act.
"Their work is critical to ensuring sustainability. HFOs are front and centre on New Zealand's coastlines, conducting between 18,000 and 22,500 inspections each year. They're incredible people — all very passionate about protecting the resource, which is evident through the huge amount of voluntary work they do.
"Some HFOs have been known to contribute more than 200 hours of voluntary work a year, which shows a real selfless dedication to their communities. For some, this is also proving to be a stepping-stone to a new career as an MPI fishery officer," Gary Orr says.
If you have questions about becoming an HFO, email HFO@mpi.govt.nz.