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Fishery Officers smash major paua poaching ring

Fishery Officers smash major paua poaching ring

93 Loose Live
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Loose Live Paua

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27 May 2008

Fishery Officers smash major paua poaching ring

In the early hours of this morning more than 130 Fishery Officers supported by around 70 Police began simultaneous enforcement actions in Auckland, Wellington, Opotiki and Hastings as the final phase of Operation PAID. With regard to paua poaching this is the largest investigation ever to be centred on Wellington and is the largest operation of its kind since 2002.

Operation PAID (Paua and Illegal Divers) has been a twelve month covert operation targeting the organised poaching, sale and distribution of paua from the Wellington coastline.

“The theft of paua is a direct attack on the rights and natural heritage of all law abiding New Zealanders. It is a criminal enterprise motivated entirely by greed, targeting paua stocks which are easily accessible. It deprives recreational fishers of the opportunity to access the resource; it is destroying an iconic customary fishery and it is depriving the Commercial Industry and the New Zealand economy of millions in domestic and export earnings. If it is allowed to continue on the scale identified in this and previous operations, it will destroy the local fishery,” said Ministry of Fisheries National Investigations Manager Shaun Driscoll.

A key aspect of the operation has been the deployment of a ‘special duties fishery officer’ working undercover since September last year to infiltrate a major paua poaching ring and identify the key criminals involved.

“Today’s termination will see around 65 suspects apprehended in relation to over 300 possible serious charges. In addition to those suspects who will be dealt with today, a further 8 offenders have already been placed before the courts as a result of associated enforcement actions that were initiated during the course of the operation,” said Mr Driscoll.

807 fresh
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fresh paua

“In addition, we expect to confiscate around 35 motor vehicles and other property used to commit fisheries offences.”

Operation PAID has involved the monitored, evidential purchase by the undercover officer of over 9 tonnes of paua (greenweight), representing more than 36,000 individual fish. This paua was on-sold to a number of ‘buyers’ who are central to this criminal enterprise (however these sales represent only part of their illegal trading operations). These buyers are then either distributing the illegal paua into the domestic market or on-selling it to high level dealers who are involved in both domestic and export distribution.

“The theft of paua in the Wellington Region is organised and the distribution chain is complex. The people involved in paua poaching rings like this are seasoned criminals, often members or associates of gangs, who are often involved in other criminal activity,” Mr Driscoll said.

“A number of the criminals who will be apprehended today are recidivist offenders who earn substantial livings from this activity. They have no regard for the law or the damage they do to this precious natural resource.”

Operation PAID began in September 2007 after months of planning and training. It was undertaken following intelligence which suggested that the theft of paua from the Wellington area was on the rise again.

While previous operations were successful in identifying and shutting down a range of distribution and illegal export methods, it became evident that demand for stolen paua was again increasing and groups of illegal divers were stealing paua from the Wellington coastline to meet that demand.

“The Ministry of Fisheries has been very successful in suppressing the illegal paua trade and in particular at denying these criminals opportunities to smuggle illegal paua out of the country through traditional avenues,” Mr Driscoll said.

A number of initiatives in conjunction with border security agencies, including the deployment trained paua sniffer dogs has made it much harder to smuggle illegal seafood.”

Mr Driscoll said that fishery officers and investigators had worked extremely hard over the period of the operation and all law abiding New Zealander’s could be proud of their efforts. “We know that paua is an important fishery to a wide cross-section of New Zealander’s and we will continue to work very hard to protect it.”

“All New Zealanders can play their part in stopping poachers and protecting our paua fisheries for future generations.”

“If people see any suspicious or illegal activity they should take down as many details as they can and call MFish on our dedicated hot-line 0800 4 POACHER,” Mr Driscoll said

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$7800.00 Cash

Background note:

• The Ministry of Fisheries (MFish) is separate from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) after a government restructure in 1996.

• Fishery Officer is the correct reference - MAF Officers have a different role unrelated to fisheries law enforcement.


Fishery management

The Fisheries Act 1996 and fisheries regulations control the use of New Zealand’s fish and shellfish resources for customary, recreational and commercial users.

It provides for the use of fisheries resources while ensuring it’s sustainability for future generations of New Zealander’s. It does this by using a Quota Management System which limits the quantity of fish that can be taken by commercial fishers from any fishery during a fishing year; setting limits on the size and number of fish that recreational fishers can take; and through an authorisation system for customary Maori catch.

Quota Management Areas are set up for each fish species, including paua. Quota is allocated for each area to commercial fishers, with the total amount that may be taken in one year restricted to a level that will result in the maximum sustainable yield. This is known as the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC).

Paua fishery

In 2005 the commercial catch of paua nationally was 1059 tonnes. This sold for $50.2 million dollars.

Paua is New Zealand’s fifth most valuable fishery behind, squid, hoki, rock lobster and orange roughy.

The customary Maori and recreational fishing sectors also value paua highly.

Paua or abalone is highly sought after in parts of Asia and can fetch up to $500-$1,000 a kilogram in its dried form in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Paua Prices – per Kg

Wholesale rate paid to a Quota Owner (Green weight) / $30.00
Wholesale rate paid to a Quota Owner (Meat weight) / $70.00
Wholesale rate that an LFR might sell paua for in NZ / $130.00
Retail price paid in a NZ fish shop / $199.95
Typical price paid at the border (usually packaged as individual paua) / $450.00
Typical price paid for dried paua in Asia / $500-1,000

Paua Poaching

In the 1990s it became apparent that paua was being targeted in a sophisticated way by poachers.

The price per kilogram, the coastal habitat they are found in (you don’t need a boat to get them), their compact size and ease of storage (freezing or drying) has made them a target for poaching.

Paua is often found in isolated bays or remote, rocky coastlines, with difficult access and few houses. Policing these remote areas for poaching is difficult. Much of the Wellington south coast, Wairarapa and southern Hawkes Bay coasts fall into this category.

Some stolen paua ends up in restaurants in New Zealand, but most gets smuggled overseas.

There are a large number of fulltime paua poachers operating both individually and collectively (exact numbers are unknown). They take considerable quantities of paua, well in excess of recreational limits. They employ many tactics to avoid apprehension.

Analysis of paua seizures over the last two years determined that there has been a marked increase in the number of undersize paua being removed from these waters. This indicates that the fishery is not maintaining current stocks or regenerating.

Analysis also indicated that 70% of black market paua now being taken illegally is less than the legal minimum size of 125mm. Ten years ago this undersize percentage figure was less than 40%.

Wellington region

The Wellington region has a very serious problem with the unlawful taking of paua to service a substantial black market trade to local, nation-wide and overseas markets.

Due to over-fishing, the area from the Waikanae river mouth south to Turakirae Head on the Wainuiomata coast was closed to the commercial fishing of paua in the early 1970s. Due to the ongoing poaching problem the area remains closed to commercial fishers.

Within this closed area, particularly Titahi Bay south to Wainuiomata, there has been a high level of paua poaching.

Response to poaching

In 2004 the government allocated new resources to combat poaching.

MFish has been able to focus more of its effort on this problem and as a result apprehensions have increased and a wider range of enforcement and investigation techniques have become available.

Full-time fishery officers, with the comprehensive training and excellent equipment are able to target paua poachers and paua poaching rings in a comprehensive manner. In particular they have been able to mount long-term operations targeting sophisticated poaching rings. As a result there have been several high-profile operations (including Operation PAID, Operation Bond and Bond 2 and Operation Pacman) that have effectively broken up some of the paua poaching rings.

Paua is also being targeted as it leaves the country. Paua sniffer-dogs are used at international airports and mail centres to locate paua in bags or freight. Customs and Aviation Security Service officers have been trained in how to identify and handle illegal seafood exports.

Often poaching happens in remote areas, a long way from an MFish office. To make deploying fisheries officers more effective, the 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476224) number was developed and to encourage the public to report suspicious activity that they see.

The Poaching is Theft campaign in late 2006 was lead by the paua and rock lobster industries and supported by the Minister of Fisheries and MFish. The 0800 4 POACHER number is used.

Penalties are set at a maximum of $250,000 with forfeiture of vessels and vehicles possible to reflect the importance of protecting our fisheries. Offenders can also be imprisoned for up to five years for the most serious charges.

It is now harder to gather large amounts of illegal paua and get them out of the country. There are no hard figures on the amount of paua being taken illegally or the number of gangs operating, but the gangs have a much more difficult environment to operate in.


Statistics – Operation Paid
/ To be Assessed at Termination
/ Already Prosecuted
/ Total

Suspects / 64 / 8 / 72
Addresses/Scenes / 76 / N/A / 76
Possible Charges / 291 / 6 / 297
Other offences/suspects referred to Police / 2 / N/A / 2
Paua (meat weight) seized – (associated operations) / N/A / 151kg / 151kg
Total Paua Purchased (individual) / 35,851 / N/A / 35,851
Total Paua Purchased (green-weight) / 9,322kg / N/A / 9,322kg
Total Paua Purchased (meat-weight) / 3,702kg / N/A / 3,702kg
Total Value of Paua Purchased @ $130 (Commercial wholesale price) / $481,260 / N/A / $481,260
Total Value of Paua Purchased @ $199.95 (Commercial retail price) / $739,475 / N/A / $739,475
Total Paua Sold – (individual) / 28,853 / N/A / 28,853
Total Paua Sold – (green-weight) / 7,501kg / N/A / 7,501kg
Total Paua Sold – (meat-weight) / 3,000kg / N/A / 3,000kg
Total Value of Paua sold @ $130 (Commercial wholesale price) / $390,000 / N/A / $390,000
Total Value of Paua Sold @ $199.95 (Commercial retail price) / $599,850 / N/A / $599,850
Total Commercial Value of Paua Still in Stock / $35,750 / N/A / $35,750
Total Value of all Paua Traded (Commercial wholesale value @ $130kg) / $871,260 / N/A / $871,260
Total Value of all Paua Traded (Commercial retail value @ $199.95kg) / $1.34 million / N/A / $1.34 million
Property to be Seized / 34 x Vehicles / N/A / $123,000 (approx. value)


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