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Fisheries Fraud Law Tightened

Fisheries Fraud Law Tightened

Media statement from Hon David Benson-Pope, Minister of Fisheries

A legal loophole that thwarted some prosecutions for alleged fisheries poaching and black market trading is closing with the passage of the Fisheries Amendment Bill (No 2) in Parliament last night.

The Bill amends section 233 of the Fisheries Act 1996 to correct a drafting error identified last year by the Court of Appeal. This section contains the Act's highest band of offence provisions, aimed at serious fraud, including poaching and black market trading.

The original law made it an offence to knowingly breach the Act to obtain a benefit, but the Court of Appeal held that commercial gain from poaching and black market activities was not a 'benefit' under the Act. This finding has prevented the Ministry bringing some prosecutions to a successful conclusion, including some arising from the major undercover "Operation Pacman" concluded in March 2002.

The Court of Appeal said there had almost certainly been a drafting mistake in the original law and recommended legislative clarification.

"This Bill amends the Act to reflect the original Parliamentary intent that people convicted of commercial poaching and black market offences should expect severe penalties," said Fisheries Minister David Benson-Pope. "These penalties range up to five years imprisonment, or fines up to $250,000, or both."

"Offending of this nature is a serious threat to the sustainability of high value fish stocks. It undermines the integrity of the Quota Management System and the rights of recreational and customary fishers. I am pleased that we have been able to close this loophole promptly."

The Fisheries Amendment Bill (No 2) also validates and implements a settlement, agreed between the Crown and the seafood industry and announced in February 2003, for under- and over-recovery of fisheries and conservation services levies. The industry will receive reductions in future levies totalling $24.6 million.

ENDS

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