A woman has been filmed illegally taking shellfish from Auckland's Cheltenham Beach despite locals telling her it was a restricted area.
Neil Raines and his partner were walking at the beach on January 20 when he came across a woman placing cockles into a plastic bag in an area marked with a permanent closure notice due to dwindling numbers.
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Mr Raines approached the woman, who he says had a European accent, and politely told her she could not take shellfish from the area. He also indicated where she could find a sign notifying the public of the ban.
A sign Mr Raines uploaded to Facebook states in multiple languages there is to be "no taking of shellfish" with a picture of cockles with a line through them. It also states that people can be fined up to $10,000 for taking the shellfish.
Instead of heeding his advice, Mr Raines told Newshub the woman claimed she couldn't speak English and placed the bag of shellfish into the water for "later retrieval".
But Mr Raines isn't convinced the woman didn't understand what he was saying, noting he attempted to use gestures to ask her to stop.
"She knew exactly what the story was, she knew what I was trying to say, but she didn't want to put the cockles back."
The woman was apparently with at least three others, but Mr Raines said they didn't seem interested in listening to him either.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) told Newshub it had received a call about the incident, but a fishery officer was not sent to the area "because the call was historic in the fact that the incident had already occurred and the people who were collecting had already left the area after being spoken to by locals".
Mr Raines disputes that, however, saying he returned to the area 45 minutes later to find the woman still on the beach.
MPI said the information it received indicated the women was unlikely to still be at the beach.
"MPI fishery officers, in good faith, made a decision to prioritise responding to other calls that had come in.
"Had it been confirmed that the people were still gathering at the time, the officers would have carrier on to attend the incident."
A video Mr Raines uploaded to the Devonport Locals Facebook group of him approaching the lady has received a range of responses, with some praising him for trying to reason with the woman and others saying he should have left the situation alone.
But he told Newshub he just wanted to create awareness about the ban on gathering cockles at the area and that people can politely advise others of the restrictions.
"The reason I did that was to try and put it out there, and not specifically towards that lady," he said.
"I don't want to come across as some big vigilante coming down on people. That's not my game plan. That's not the sort of person I am."
Mr Raines said he had visited the beach for about 55 years and seen shellfish numbers dwindle - something he said locals, iwi and Council were attempting to reverse.
"I have seen all sorts of situations... big piles of empty shells that used to be there that have basically disappeared now," he said.
According to the Department of Conservation's (DoC) 2009 Harbours, bays and estuaries report, in the early 1990s residents began noticing the number of cockles on the beach were falling, and after two two-year bans, a permanent ban was established under the Fisheries Act.
An Auckland Council State of our Gulf report in 2017 found the cockle population "remains very low" and as numbers had not substantially increased since the ban, environmental changes were likely at fault.