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The alleged "wholesale slaughter" of an elusive and unprotected fish species was caught on camera in Tairua as locals acted in frustration at the lack of laws.
Pink maomao, or longfin perch, is a species of sea bass. They can grow to around 50cm, but little is known about these fish.
On Thursday afternoon, documentary maker Mike Bhana filmed a group of fishermen returning from nearby coastal fisheries with what he says was 1500-2000 pink maomao fish.
"These guys have six bin loads, with 1000 fish easy," he said.
"We saw five boats today doing the same thing, so that would be five boats with between one and six fish bins loaded each, I would estimate up to 1500 to 2000 pink maomao.
"This is our community, we can't have this happening. We look after this fishery and have people coming in and raping it.
"There's got to be an urgent change to legislation. Otherwise we're wholesale slaughtering it."
The men loaded their recreational boats on to trailers and drove off.
Among them, in a white Porsche Carerra, a man who said his name was Tan.
The number he gave was unrecognised.
Another witness at the wharf was John Dixon - introducing himself as "the boat rage guy" - who lives aboard his yacht in the Tairua harbour where he says he has witnessed the same men going out on their boats with up to seven men onboard each vessel.
The vehicles were brand new 4WD utes and 5m alloy boats.
They had been launching from Pauanui wharf but this is currently unusable.
"I watch them going past in the morning, they hoon past. When the weather is good, they go out daily. It is all the same boats and there'll be seven onboard.
"They've been doing it for three months."
At 6pm, more boats were arriving back with even more fish.
"There may as many as 12 boats involved," Bhana said.
Numerous locals said a Tairua-based fishing charter had been booked and taken the men out to catch pink maomao at key spots, allowing the area to be GPS recorded before the men returned with their own vessels and gear.
This included numerous fishing rods and electrical reels.
Gull Tairua staff said they had seen two near identical boats and a jetski coming in every day for the last 10 days. They had bought petrol, a very minimum amount of bait and another reel.
Brian Hart of Tairua said, like many of his generation, he used to believe our oceans were a never-ending resource.
"I spent many years as an honorary fisheries officer and became totally disheartened with the greed and disrespect shown for our ocean."
He believed Tairua had been targeted by fishermen targeting pink maomao.
"On June 17 and 18 three boats were checked by fisheries officers and police, and a total of 1200 fish were landed by combined crews of 13 people. As if this is not disgusting enough, these people have discovered that pink maomao are not included in the 20 per day allowable catch and they're flaunting this to the full extent.
"It is possible these fish are being offloaded to an illegal market. This sort of behaviour shows these people are morally bankrupt and have no respect for our ocean."
Legasea posted about the pink maomao take on its social media page with more than 160 comments within days.
Legasea spokesperson Sam Woolford said the organisation had been advocating for a change to regulations since 2019 to see pink maomao put into the amateur daily limits, with three maximum.
"We think this fish is really special. It's a reef species, it's slow growing which is why we think a limit of three is appropriate. The don't migrate, they stay on the same reef for most of their lives, therefore the amount that recreational fishers are allowed to harvest has to be reflective of that.
"Our delegates signed off on this over 24 months ago and we want to see that happen."
He said the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council are very supportive of the move.
They also want a ban on commercial fishing for pink maomao and other vulnerable reef species.
Pink maomao are considered a 'low productive' species, Legasea said.
"Legality aside, this unconstrained harvesting of a valuable species must be stopped.
"Given the lack of any science information available, pink maomao needs to be managed conservatively. New regulations that ban commercial take and limit recreational catches will help to protect this species from being wiped out.
"What's alarming is pink maomao are being squeezed from every direction right now. We haven't respected this species."
New Zealand Sport Fishing Council members are meeting senior MPI officials tomorrow (Friday 25 June) to discuss getting these regulations implemented ASAP to stop the mass harvest of this very special fish.
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