The Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI’s) honorary fishery officers are among the thousands of volunteers being honoured as part of National Volunteers Week this week.
For more than half a century, Honorary Fisheries Officers (HFOs) have been donating their time and expertise to protecting New Zealand’s fishing resources, says MPI’s director of compliance services, Gary Orr.
“The first HFOs though were appointed in Auckland in 1967, and they’ve been going strong since. Back in those days, it was a simple recruitment process,” Mr Orr said.
“HFO appointments could come after a member of the public expressed their concerns about fishing resources – usually about their favourite fishing spots being stripped. They’d come armed with enthusiasm and willingness to protect it.
“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.”
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. Aside from being stood down for a few months during COVID-19 lockdown, 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,” said Mr Orr.
“They do this in their own time while generally leading busy lives outside of this work. 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.”
Long serving HFO Cliff Mabey is one example among many. Alongside his fisheries work he has been juggling various other voluntary roles such as the Fire Service, Search and Rescue, and St John Ambulance. He originally became an HFO 34 years ago in the Hot Water beach area of Coromandel Peninsula because the area was remote and lacked a few services.
“It was a case of showing community spirit and getting involved – something I’ve never regretted doing. I don’t get tired of meeting people and sharing some education on fishing rules and regulations because it helps to ensure our coastal waters and the fishing resources will be protected for future generations to enjoy, like I have,” he says.