The Department of conservation's ban on fish feeding at Goat Island has reduced reports of snapper jumping from the water to chomp carelessly-held sandwiches, and biting fingers. But fish-feeding supporters say the ban has also reduced fish numbers in the marine reserve. DOC's ban followed dozens of reports from divers and swimmmers suffering nips on unguarded flesh.
Foolhardy divers who held food in their teeth for the fish to take, occasionally reported torn lips. And a snorkeller feeding frozen peas to blue cod was terrified when an excited snapper attacked his ear. In addition to the safety angle, DOC claimed the feeding was polluting the water with food waste, making the fish vomit and changing their natural behaviour.
But the feeding practice brought throngs of fish to the beach, says veteran Goat Island diver, Floor Anthoni. Mr Anthoni claims fish deserted in droves when feeding stopped, while still more fish have been driven away by silt intrusion from the creek running through the reserve.
DOC made its decision without consulting local tourist operators, he complains. "The department should allow some controlled feeding to bring the fish in again, and allow people to enjoy them," he says. "It's perfectly natural for humans to feed animals, and when you think about it, it's the only nice thing we do for them there. Fish don't gain anything from the money DOC spends on roading and amenities."
But a natural history photojournalist, Tony Enderby claims the feeding got well beyond a joke. Some days people arrived with armfuls of bread, huge bags of frozen peas and large dog rolls. At times it left an oily scum on top of the water. And some fish choked on the plastic bags or dog roll wrappers."
The swarms of blue cod [blue maomao] have not left entirely, he believes, but moved to the outer part of the reserve when feeding stopped. Even without the lure of food, Mr Enderby admits, tame blue cod and other species will sometimes gently nibble ungloved fingers, 'just to check you out'.
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