Alleged illegal fisher at protected marine reserve accepts fault, working to make amends

A man who posted videos of himself and friends fishing inside a marine reserve at the Poor Knights Islands in Northland says his crew misread the chart plotter, but accepts "ignorance is not an excuse".

Stefan Apiata says no one on board had been to the islands before - and he's working with local iwi and authorities to make amends.

"Kia ora whānau, turns out Stef's a bit of a wanted man at the moment," Apiata said in a social media video.

Apiata is owner of the distinctive vessel, the Atarua. He's "wanted" because he posted a video of himself and friends hauling in fish inside the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve.

"Long story short is we f**ked up. Wasn't aware that where we were was out of bounds. One of the crew onboard misread the GPS on the chart plotter," said Apiata.

It comes after a dive company owner described the group fishing in the protected marine reserve as a "blatant and reckless raiding party".

The Poor Knights has more than 120 species of fish, as well as marine mammals and black corals. 

Many of the species are threatened both in New Zealand and internationally. 

Shane Geange from the Department of Conservation (DoC) told Newshub an investigation is underway.

"Any potential infringement or fishing activity within the Poor Knights marine reserves is pretty shocking and of great concern to us," said Geange.

He said anyone visiting the Poor Knights should know the rules and being unfamiliar with them doesn't wash.

"No, it's not an excuse. That marine reserve was first established in 1981 and made a fully protected area in 1998, so it's not a new marine reserve. It has been established for a long time," Geange added.

Apiata accepts this.

"Ignorance is not an excuse to break the law and I'll take it on the chin and wear the repercussions accordingly," Apiata said.

He told Newshub since posting the videos on social media, he's received threats. Apiata was also upset with Newshub for highlighting what happened in our story published on Tuesday.

"Newshub, running a whole story on me, making up the other half of the story. That's unfair. Bunch of vultures all these journos," he said.

DoC said breaches can result in vessels being seized among other more serious penalties.

"An infringement can carry a penalty of three months in prison or a fine of up $250,000 as well."

Sam Woolford from the recreational fishing group LegaSea told Newshub he's pleased Apiata fronted up. 

"It was positive to see these guys take responsibility for their mistake. That took guts." 

Woolford says LegaSea aims to restore coastal fisheries and ensure future generations can catch a feed of fish. 

"This incident has highlighted that there is clearly a need for more education." 

Shane Geange from DoC told Newshub breaching the rules at marine reserves do happen too often.

"I do know at other marine reserves around the country we frequently have reports of non-compliance."