Growing up on an island fishing nation inspired move to become MPI Honorary Fishery Officer

By Ministry for Primary Industries 

For Kepueli Hanisi, a childhood spent fishing in the waters of Tonga, to an interest in fishing in New Zealand, led to voluntary work as an Honorary Fishery Officer.

Kepueli Hanisi. Photo/Supplied

Kepueli was born and grew up in the Tongan village of Vaotu’u Tongatapu until he was 16 years old when his family swapped the village life for Auckland.

Driven by those formative young days, along with a genuine interest in fishing rules, he moved into voluntary work as an Honorary Fishery Officer protecting the Auckland fishing resources in the eastern and southern areas.

As he explains – fishing in Tonga was something most people did and so his enthusiasm to catch a feed but not take more than his share was something he was keen to do when New Zealand became home in 1998.

“My mother was from Vava’u which is about a 20-hour ferry journey from the main island of Tongatapu. Net fishing and diving for Vasuva (clams) was my family’s main source of income, which we would sell at markets. It was our way of life.

“At the village I came from, people would often go out fishing and if their luck was good, they would share some of their catch with the village elders,” he says.

Kepu Hanisi has been an HFO since 2014. It’s a community role he enjoys, particularly as it involves a lot of ‘one on one’ rules education work with recreational fishers.

He says some of the Tongan community in Auckland are aware that he is an HFO, and people are often asking him for advice on recreational fishing rules.

“Through word of mouth, it got around that I was a volunteer Fishery Officer (HFO). The questions have been flowing since – everything from fin fish catch limits to rules around cockles and set nets. It’s really good because I get the opportunity to explain rules on a personal level which I hope will make a difference in protecting the fishing resources for the future,” he says.

The education side of his work is what appeals to him most about being an HFO.

“I get to talk with fishers on the boat ramps, or on the beaches and coasts. The rules have been the topic of many deep discussions with the Tongan community out East during our traditional Kava session on a Friday night,” he says.

Generally, Kepu says most people he deals with during Auckland HFO patrols are cooperative, even if it leads to an infringement. He also enjoys fishing from time to time when off duty to land a feed of fresh snapper and mullet on the dinner table.

Kepueli Hanisi is married with three young children under the age of 4 and is confident his children will also be keen to drop a line in the ocean when they’re old enough.

“I took my eldest boy out to gather cockles at Kawakawa Bay earlier this year. He loved the experience and it’s something I hope we can do for generations to come,” he says.

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