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The dangers of crab netting on Northland beaches

Jessica Phuang 0 1,572 2015.07.22 14:06

Geddes and I 1.jpg


Recently I received a phone call from Constable Martin Geddes who works at Waipu in Northland.  He was concerned of the safety of Asian people who visit the beaches, so I invited him to Aucklandso that I can interview him.


Jessica : Thank you for coming all the way to discuss about the safety of Asian people.  You’ve just driven 2 hours from Waipu to come to Aucklandto give us advice, I wish to thank you for your concerns.


Martin: I want them to have a good time but it is important that they take precautions to keep themselves safe, so I am here to raise awareness of the dangers of crab netting on Northland Beaches


Jessica: When you said you were concern about their safety at the beaches in Northland when people are crab netting, which aspects are you actually referring to?


Martin: We noticed that Asian people have developed an interest in catching crabs, that is fine but some of them may not be aware of the dangers and I wish to have the opportunity to share with them some safety precautions so that they can be kept safe.  Over the last 2 summer holidays, already 2 Chinese crab fishermen have been drowned while netting crabs. This year there has been 21 recorded rescues of Asian crab catchers on Ruakaka and WaipuBeaches. The two drownings and most of the rescues were at UretitiBeachwhich is the most popular location for crab netters.    We are also seeing an increase of other nationalities arriving including Korean and Indian.  We welcome them, but we want them to keep safe.


Jessica : So you are seeing more Asian people visiting the beaches in your area?


Martin: 5 years ago, during the summer months, usually about 200 – 300 people a day will visit the beaches here mainly on New Year’s Day only. Recently the number has increased to near a 1000 arriving Christmas and Boxing Day through to New Year’s Day and over the summer months.  99% of these people who are there to net crabs are Asians.  My concern here is that there is little awareness of the dangers of netting crabs hence we are seeing the drowinings and multiple rescues.


Jessica: Can you tell me how do they go netting crabs?


Martin: They catch them using a cage and buoy system as shown in the picture.   A chicken carcass is placed inside the cage and then it is carried out it into deeper water.  Normally they will walk into the water so that they are up to about 2 to 3 metres deep which means they have to walk out to about 20 to 50 feet or even further away from the beach into the sea.  The cage is left in the water for about 20 – 30 minutes giving time for the crabs to enter the cage.  The crabber will walk into the water again to check if there are any crabs in it.   In 20 or 30 minutes, the waters could be deeper already due to an incoming tide, it is now dangerous to check or retrieve the cage if the person is not an experienced swimmer.


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Jessica: Do you find people who don’t know how to swim also try to net crabs in this way? 


Martin: Absolutely and this is why I am concerned, most of the netters cannot swim or have very limited ability.  I strongly suggest that people must learn how to swim if they wish to go netting crabs.  This is because even confident swimmers will find it challenging to manage the waters especially when the currents are strong. 


Jessica: How should people prepare if they want to go netting crabs?  What should they do?


Martin: Firstly check the Marine Forecast.  You can visit the website http://www.metservice.com/marine-surf/recreational-marine/

If the sea currents or winds are going to be strong for that day, pick another day to visit.  Also check the tide details. 


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Even on a good day, if you plan to go crab netting, make sure you wear the proper gear.  Always have a wetsuit on and then on top of it wear a lifejacket. It is important that you purchase a life jacket and that it fits correctly


Jessica: Why both?


Martin: Just in case you get swept into the waters. Your wet suit will keep you warm and will protect you if you hit any rocks, it will also help you float which is very important.  The lifejacket is designed to keep afloat on your back to keep your head above the water. This safety gear could save your life, it will keep you alive until you can be rescued.  It is important that people get the right fitting gear and not just borrow them from anyone.  If your life jacket is too big it can be ripped off you by the waves. If it is too small it will not support your weight. You will find the jacket size printed on the inside area of the life jacket.


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Jessica: What if that person goes netting crabs alone?  How will people know if they’ve fallen into the waters?


Martin: Never go crab netting, fishing or even swimming in the sea alone.  Always go with someone so that you can look after each other if something happens.


Jessica: So if I see someone fall into the waters, should I jump in to save that person or should I call for help?


Martin: It depends.  Is the sea calm that day or is it really rough?  If it’s really rough, call for help.  Even if it’s on a good calm day, you’ve got to be sensible.  Are you a confident swimmer?  Do you know how to save a person in the waters?  If not, call 111 for help rather than jump into the waters.  A person who is drowning is likely to panic and may grab you in a hold you cannot break away from. It is better to assist by phoning 111 and getting rescuers on the way immediately.  There are instances every year where would be rescuers get into trouble themselves and need to be rescued. In some cases they have drowned meanwhile the person originally in trouble has been saved.


Jessica: So do you think it’s a good idea for people who have hobbies that are around the seas to learn how to save lives and where do you get lessons for this? 


Martin: NZ is a country surrounded by beautiful seas and many activities can be enjoyed.  If you are the sort of person who likes going to the lakes, rivers and beaches, then I advise that it is definitely a good idea to learn how to swim. Once a confident swimmer then you can learn how to save a person.  You can join any Surf Life Saving club to get these lessons. For learning to swim contact Watersafe Auckland on "www.watersafe.org.nz". For learning to rescue visit "www.surflifesaving.org.nz"


Jessica : What other dangers should I be aware of if I was planning to go into the waters?


Martin:  Rough seas due to high wind or offshore swells are dangers. You can have no winds at all yet rough seas and large powerful waves. This is due to stormy conditions many kilometres out to sea from the coastline. Sometimes there are powerful sea currents sweeping along the beach. These currents can scour out a deep trench that is not always visible. For example someone putting a pot out may step into this trench or hole and suddenly be in water well over their head. The current can then sweep the person into breaking waves and deeper water. This is exactly what happened to the last Chinese national who drowned at UretitiBeach. Rips is another sea condition that is not well known but very dangerous. A rip is a strong current of water flowing directly out to sea. Even powerful swimmers will struggle to swim against this flow and will be swept out to sea. A rip is an area of outlfowing water up to 50 metres wide and looks similar to the flow of a river, they can usually be observed if you know what to look for. The most distinctive feature is some water discoloration, the water may be darker in the out flowing area. You may also notice that the water may be more frothy and turbulent in the out flowing zone. The rip will also affect wave structure in that in the out flowing area the waves are often smaller. You may notice that the waves breaking either side of the rip are bigger and are breaking more forcefully. Rips are known to drag groups of people out to sea and can form suddenly with little warning. 


Jessica : So when I arrive at the beach and before going into the waters, do I look whether there is a rip first?


Martin: In fact, when you arrive at the beach, look for any warning sign boards that are put up around the beach. These sign boards are there to help keep people safe.  However most beaches do not have warning signs so you need to be assessing the sea and weather conditions yourself. Remember sea and weather conditions can deteriorate very rapidly so be prepared to get out of the water and stop your swimming and netting accordingly. 


Jessica: You’ve given me a very good overview of how to prevent myself or even my friends from harm in the waters.  I think your advice is not just good for us Asian people but for everyone.  Thank you.  Is there anything else that you would like to say?


Martin : Just to cover off the main points.


1. Learn to swim check this out on "www.watersafe.org.nz". Learn to rescue "www.surflifesaving.org.nz".


2. Prepare your trip before you leave by checking the weather forecast either by radio, television or visit this website for an up to date marine forecast  " www.metservice.co.nz " you can also download their app.


3. Purchase a wetsuit and proper fitting lifejacket at any sports or boating store.


4. On arrival check the sea conditions again if it is too rough do not risk entering the water.


5. Never net, fish or swim alone. You have no one to assist if you get into trouble. 


6. Know your exact location so that if you see someone in trouble or drowning you can tell the 111 operator where you are. We have had instances where the person calling for help is not able to say where they are this causes delays for the rescuers these delays can cost lives. A good example here would be " I am at Uretiti  beach off the at the end of Uretiti Tip Road access" or "I am at Ruakaka Beach 200 metres south of the Ruakaka Surf Club".


7. If you get into difficulty in the water do not panic, try to remain calm. Panicking and thrashing about will use valuable energy that you will need to stay alive. A panicking person becomes less buoyant therefore will sink quickly. Raise one arm up high and signal for help, this is the international signal that you are in trouble and need rescuing.


8. If you are the onshore person call 111 speak clearly and slowly. Give the exact location so rescuers can get to you quickly. Do not attempt a rescue yourself unless you are a confident swimmer and are certain you save yourself if you get into trouble.  


Remember the catch limit is 50 crabs per person setting the cage.  Not 50 per each person in your group. If you have one cage operating stop when you get to the limit of 50.  A helpful website here is "www.mpi.govt.nz" you can download the app to get catch limits, sizes and other useful information to avoid fines. 


I welcome people to come and enjoy the beaches but I wish to advise people to take more care in keeping themselves safe so that they can return home safely.  

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