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Increased focus on paua poachers

14 September 2005

Minister signals increased focus on paua poachers

An increased focus on paua poachers has been signalled by Fisheries Minister David Benson-Pope, who announced today a decision to progress key recommendations of a joint working group.

“As Minister of Fisheries I take the threat of poaching very seriously,” says Mr Benson-Pope. “Last year I asked key players from the commercial paua industry to work with the Fisheries Ministry, and come up with actions that would help us manage compliance risks in New Zealand’s paua fisheries.

“The work was a collaborative effort, and has approached the problem of poaching from many different directions. The recommendations fall broadly into two categories, those we can implement relatively quickly, for example, by way of regulation changes, and those that will require a longer-term approach as we identify technologies or law changes that will need to be introduced.

"I have asked the Ministry to begin consultation with the community about those changes we can introduce quickly.”

These include:
- removing the accumulation defence for paua in the amateur fishing regulations – effectively taking away a poachers ability to claim large hauls of illegally taken paua were caught legitimately over many different days;
- setting a limit on the number of paua that people can take out of the country;
- a targeted review of the commercial reporting regulations to build greater clarity about when and where commercial paua fishers need to fill in their catch landing forms;
- improving the use of international intelligence gathered by the commercial paua sector;
- increasing collaboration between fishing industry sectors in New Zealand; and
- a public awareness campaign to improve voluntary compliance.

"I have asked the Ministry to begin consulting with recreational fishers and other groups about removing the accumulation defence, and about restricting how much paua an individual can legitimately take out of the country," said Mr Benson-Pope. "I see these as two key changes we can make as we turn up the heat on poachers."

In addition, Mr Benson-Pope has asked the Ministry and industry to do further work on ways to identify legitimate commercial fishing activity on the water. Industry have supported the idea of exploring a "real time" reporting regime that will make it easy for Ministry of Fisheries compliance staff to isolate legitimate commercial activity from other activity, especially poaching.

Other initiatives to be explored over the longer term are some type of labelling and tracking system that would identify legitimate paua from its ocean source and allow it to be tracked through to its destination on the domestic market, and investigating whether it is necessary to extend fishery officers' powers.

“This year the Government committed $11.6 million over four years to develop targeted compliance capability in the poaching and black market area. This includes $2.9m of operational funding in the coming year to create a Special Tactics team for covert operations.

"We cannot afford to take our foot off the enforcement pedal,” said Mr Benson-Pope.

Background to the Working Group's recommendations

Black market and poaching activity is the greatest risk to New Zealand's paua fisheries.

In August 2004, Fisheries Minister David Benson-Pope convened the joint Paua Fishery Working Group, and asked them to look at how to constrain paua poaching and black market activity.

They recently reported to the Minister that any programme to effectively manage the risk of paua poaching and black market activity must integrate components of the following four strategies:
- improving the collection and analysis of information on these activities;
- increasing the Ministry’s capability to detect poaching in the paua fishery;
- increasing the deterrent capability through effective intervention and prosecution; and
- improving voluntary compliance with fisheries rules by educating and informing people.

As paua poaching and black market activity can take place on the beach, as well as at the processing, export and market stages, any strategy needs to focus on detecting paua criminals anywhere in the supply chain. The working group recommended nine initiatives:

1) Remove the amateur accumulation limit defence – fishers possessing in excess of the daily bag limit are legally entitled to claim paua was collected over multiple days. Poachers use this defence to accumulate large quantities of fish for sale.

2) Limit personal export allowances – There is currently no restriction on the quantity of paua a person can remove from New Zealand for personal use. Poachers use this avenue to dispose of illegal paua into overseas markets.

3) Confirm the legitimacy of commercial fishers – On the water, the Ministry can have difficulty distinguishing legitimate operators from poachers. Industry and MFish need to continue investigating a ‘real time information system’ to deliver remote information on fishing activity.

4) Clarify when paua fishers should complete their returns – Flexibility over the definition of ‘landing’ in the Fisheries (Reporting) Regulations 2001, means fishers can offload illegally caught paua prior to declaring the catch on a Paua Catch Effort Landing Return.

5) Establish a framework to utilise New Zealand Paua Industry intelligence – The working group proposes developing mechanisms to facilitate paua industry sources reporting on possible movement of illegal paua in black market hotspots, such as China.

6) Increase the ability of fishery officers to apprehend suspected offenders. The working group recommends a review of the Fisheries Act 1996 so that legislation reflects the impact poaching and black market activity has on the paua fishery.

7) Identify commercial catch on the domestic market – Identifying legitimate product on the domestic market is difficult. The working group recommends that legitimate paua on the domestic market be differentiated from illegal product by a labelling or a tagging system.

8) Increased collaboration between industry sectors – Industry shares information that might help detect and prosecute people involved in illegal fishing activity. Industry management groups actively encourage their members to report suspicious activity either direct to MFish or to the local Paua Management Advisory Committees.

9) Increased public awareness – Voluntary compliance plays a significant role in any compliance strategy. The working group believes that a strategic “public awareness campaign” that supports the role of incentives and public goodwill will contribute to increased voluntary compliance.

ENDS

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