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Residents are livid as they watch a parade of fishermen from Central Otago and Christchurch turn up - including some driving over the Haast Pass at 3am - when everyone else is stuck in lockdown.
However, Constable Sean Millington yesterday said his hands were tied as "quite a few" of those arriving from outside the region had paperwork saying they could travel from one district to another to fish for whitebait.
"I believe a few whitebaiters do have legitimate paperwork from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), however others have a generic email from the Ministry of Health saying they, too, can travel out of the district."
Mr Millington said police were investigating the legality of such exemptions.
The ministry’s paperwork did not explain reasons for travel, he said.
"I think more people have come across the Ministry of Health way to get around "out of district travel" [restrictions] and are now taking advantage of it — and coming to Haast to whitebait."
As the sole police officer at Haast, he had sent people packing when he had caught them trying to sneak into town under the cover of darkness.
"Just the other day I turned away five vehicles I came across on the Haast Pass at 3 o’clock in the morning."
They were from Christchurch, Alexandra and Cromwell.
"They said they had baches in Haast. I said they were not their family homes and sent them back where they came from."
Haast Store owner Myreen Kain said she had noticed a few new faces in the shop during lockdown.
Others had arrived for the season before lockdown kicked in.
Another Haast resident, who declined to be named, said some of the visiting whitebaiters were trying to slip into South Westland through a loophole.
"They are saying they are food suppliers and are essential workers, and pay $250 [application fee] to allow them to travel out of their usual district and go whitebaiting."
"Caravans and boats - there are visitors willy nilly everywhere and it is very annoying, especially when we are all following the lockdown rules."
The Haast resident said she had tried to contact the Minister Responsible for Covid Response, Chris Hipkins, and the Ministry of Primary Industries but to no avail.