$800 fine for breaching dolphin set net ban

A Phillipstown man with a “passion” for sea fishing has been fined $800 after admitting he got the rules wrong for the South Island set net ban.

Much of the island’s east coast is covered by the ban, out to four nautical miles, from Clarence Point in Marlborough to Slope Point in Catlins, Southland. There are some local exemptions.

Jason Murray Nix, 49, may also lose the wooden clinker boat and the set net he was caught using near Motunau Island in North Canterbury.

He pleaded guilty before Judge Tony Couch in the Christchurch District Court to a charge of using a set net in breach of the closed area.

The Ministry for Primary Industries told the court the area was closed to protect endangered Hector’s dolphins.

“Fishing is seen as the greatest known human threat to the Hector’s dolphins, with set netting being the method that poses the greatest risk,” the MPI said. “There are two confirmed Hector’s dolphin deaths in the last 10 years that can be attributed to illegal set netting within the Canterbury region.”

Nix left Motunau River in his boat early on December 22, and headed across to Motunau Island and set the net using a life jacket as a float. About an hour later, a “community source” pulled the net from the water and gave it to a fisheries officer two days later.

Nix was co-operative when interviewed. He said he knew about the ban but thought he could set a “bait” net to catch bait for his craypots. He said in court he had made a mistake – he would have been allowed to use a drag net to get bait rather than a set net.

Defence counsel Carol Morgan said Nix had a passion for fishing in the sea. He was employed as a carpenter, who had moved from the North Island to Christchurch six years ago. He accepted the reason for the set netting ban.

Nix has previously worked as a commercial fisher.

MPI said Hector’s dolphins were endemic to New Zealand and classified as endangered. A population of only 15,000 was found around the South Island.

It stated: “The Banks Peninsula area has a Hector’s dolphin population of around 900. It has been estimated that in New Zealand more than 12,000 Hector’s and Maui dolphins (on the North Island’s west coast) have been killed in fishing nets since 1970, with a high threat to these dolphins being nets that are left overnight.”

Judge Couch noted that Nix had pleaded guilty to the charge, and had only intended that the net would be out for a short time, and not overnight. He imposed an $800 fine and ordered forfeiture of the boat and net, but Nix can apply to have them returned.