Fishery officer Kyall Boonen

Kyall Boonen is a fishery officer who wants New Zealanders to enjoy fishing and diving as much as he does. We caught up with Kyall to talk about what led him to the role, what he gets up to day-to-day, and how he helps to keep our shared fisheries sustainable now and into the future.

What attracted you to the role? 

Kyall in uniform, standing on a wharf.

It all began in Gisborne growing up. As a kid, I would head down to the river, wharf or rocky outcrop to chuck a line in as soon and as often as I could. I then moved to Whakatane where things really went into overdrive, fishing every weekend alongside my cousins. It didn't take long to start diving as well. I decided I wanted to know more, so studied a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Marine Biology.

Soon I began working for a private fisheries research company doing voluntary surveys of catches of crayfish, scallops, kahawai, and gurnard. The work exposed me to the pressures on our precious resources and the sometimes lack of respect for the rules surrounding New Zealanders' favourite past-time.

A vacancy for a fisheries officer came up in early 2014. I moved to Auckland to begin my new career as a fishery officer with the Ministry for Primary Industries. Some 9 months later, the opportunity arose to transfer to the winterless north and be stationed in Whangarei.

 

What's special about the Northland fisheries? 

Part of a beach taken from the back window of a car. Part of the car is shown.

The fishery is unique. There is a lot of customary fishing in the area, which brought me into day-to-day contact with various iwi groups.

The area stretches from Wellsford to the Kaipara Harbour in the south, up to Hokianga Harbour across to Whangaroa in the north.

The coasts are in close proximity to each other, about a 2-hour drive from side to side. There are different fishery rules for each coast, which means there is a lot to learn.

The whole area is a fishery mecca. Everyone seems involved with it in some form or another, whether it be mum, dad and the kids collecting scallops within the harbour, big game fishing, or commercial operations. It has a massive amount of species.

What did your job involve day-to-day?

Kyall, in his uniform, bending over the bonnet of a car, writing notes.

I spent a lot of time stopping poaching and selling of seafood. There are also a lot of illegal Facebook sales – basically, people trying to make a buck out of recreational fishing.

On the commercial side, I got involved in inspections to make sure operators were sticking to rules.

 

 

Have you got any good work stories?

Three fishery officers on a fishing boat. A cloth MPI badge on the shirt sleeve of one of the officers is in the foreground.

A big one involved 2 foreign vessels misreporting bluefin tuna catches and fishing without a licence. They were fined nearly $1 million for that a few months ago and the vessels were deregistered.

I was part of Operation Zodiac 2016, the joint MPI and NZDF (NZ Defence Force) patrol that detected the offending. The vessels were caught fishing in an area between New Zealand and Fiji and were misreporting southern bluefin tuna as lower-value bigeye tuna.

I was deployed on the navy's offshore patrol vessel, the HMNZS Otago when the bust was made. The patrol involved a month on the high seas. It was one of my most interesting work experiences and ended with some great results.

As an enforcer of regulations, is it hard trying to maintain good community relations?

I don't find that. If you act fairly and treat people with respect you get a good reaction. There have even been offenders we have prosecuted who have been fine to shake my hand at the end of it. On the whole, we get a lot of support for what we do, which is very reassuring.

What qualities make a good fisheries officer?

You need to be able to relate to people. There's a lot of misconception that we're here to stop people and we're against fishing. The fact is the majority of fishery officers really like fishing and diving. We want the resource to be enjoyed by people but in a sustainable manner. It's great to be able to show you genuinely enjoy the resource like everyone else.

Working in the Chathams

Kyall, off-duty, holding a crayfish in one hand, and his baby boy in the other.

 

I took over the solo fishery officer role in the Chatham Islands early in 2018. It's a 2 and a half year secondment.

I am looking forward to this opportunity, in particular bringing my son up in an area that will expose him to the ocean and fishing opportunities much like I had.

This is why I think it is important to do the job I do so, for many generations to come, we can all continue to enjoy the fabulous past-time of fishing and diving.

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