Like father, like son…Daniel Leef is an HFO patrolling the top of the motu

Cape Reinga is the most northern part of the motu, and Fisheries New Zealand has Honorary Fishery Officers (HFOs) volunteering their time to protect shared fisheries at this pinnacle part of the country.

Daniel Leef started patrolling in Kaitaia area of the far north in 2020. He’s also one of our youngest HFOs at 27 years old.

The Kaitaia patrol catchment area spreads from both the West and East coast, including from Hokianga on the West Coast and Whangaroa Harbour on the East Coast and in all the area leading directly up to Cape Reinga.

There’s a whanau connection to Daniel being an HFO in that he is following in his father’s footsteps.

“My father has been an HFO for 12-years, so I had some insight into what I was getting into. The main area I cover is from the West Coast from Whangape Harbour to Cape Reinga passing 90-mile beach. Ahipara is a popular place to fish and dive so I spend a lot of time there.“

Daniel is also a volunteer at the Kaitaia Fire Brigade – a role he juggles with his voluntary work as an HFO.

Public service fills a big part of Daniel’s paid working life. He’s a qualified ambulance officer and used to work for St John Ambulance. These days he works for New Zealand Police in the Northern Emergency Communications Centre.

“I started with St John when I was 18 and became the youngest qualified Māori officer in Kaitaia. My iwi is Te Rarawa and my hapū is Ngati Haua, so that was a proud moment.“

And as he explains, his professional work experience benefits his voluntary work.

“The high-risk situations and traumatic incidents that I was exposed to while working on the ambulance actually prepared me well for a range of situations, including with police where quick decision making, confidence and empathy are needed in handfuls.

“I patrol as an HFO in the same region where I was when working for St John. I’m a familiar face in the community. I often see this shine through where even some of the rough diamonds recognise me. There can be confronting situations from time to time as an HFO and my previous experience generally helps cool things down.

Probably the most common scenario I come across is fishers with too much pāua. Often people deliberately taking too much pāua or a prohibited shellfish species will try to hide their catch.

There’s no typical day out on patrol in the Far North. The areas we go to are often isolated. It can be anything from checking catches at easy access boat ramps to rocky or soft sandy beaches. We talk with fishers and divers, focusing not just on inspections, but also educating people on the rules. From time to time, we patrol with the backup of police and local iwi. The aim is to build a relationship to ensure local kaitiakitanga are also able to help monitor and protect the kaimoana and fisheries resources in the area. On the water, we’re well equipped to be able to conduct sea patrols in our new vessel rightly named ‘Te Hiku’, representing the name of our region in Te reo. About half of my patrol work is done with employed Senior Fishery Officers, so the experience I get is invaluable.“

Outside of his voluntary and paid work, Daniel also enjoys casting a rod into the ocean and diving.

“Absolutely. Fishing and diving are my favourite outdoor activities. I’m an ocean boy and I have a favourite Spot X near my home at Whangape, just south of Kaitaia. It’s a quiet place to recoup and relax after the high intensity of the roles I play. I live a busy life but would encourage anyone thinking of being an HFO to give it a go as it opens opportunities.“

If you have questions about becoming an HFO, email [email protected]

If you’re unsure of the fishing rules the best way to find out is to download the free NZ Fishing Rules App.

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