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Illegal fish buying operation closed down

Media statement from the Ministry of Fisheries for immediate release
16 December 2009

Illegal fish buying operation closed down

Ministry of Fisheries staff today executed authorities to enter several properties in the Wanganui area.

Fishery Officers from Wellington and Taranaki became aware of breaches of the Fisheries Act when they undertook a cursory surveillance operation into the activities of some of the restaurants and fish and chip shops (collectively known as dealers in fish – DIFs) in the Wanganui area during the year.

Plain clothes Fishery Officers visited 15 DIFs and found that 10 of them were purchasing fish outside the Quota Management System (QMS). “Operation Local” was terminated today.

In the last six months more than 140 kilograms of paua and rock lobster has been purchased by food outlets in Wanganui, contravening the provisions of the Fisheries Act 1996.

“My staff and I were staggered at the willingness of DIF operators in Wanganui to flout the Fisheries Act and not comply with the regulations that are in place to protect the QMS and commercial fishers’ livelihood,” said Ministry of Fisheries Regional Manager Ross Thurston.

As a result of today’s enquiries, several of the food outlet operators will be facing serious charges under the Fisheries Act. They will be liable to fines up to $250,000 and in some cases the possibility of up to five years’ imprisonment.

“Some of these unscrupulous operators have evaded the fisheries record-keeping regulations and dealt with fish for cash under the table,” Mr Thurston said. “Some operators have also been devious in trying to avoid detection in their business transactions. Their actions have shown a total lack of respect for the law.”

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In total, 143.5 kilograms of paua and 12 rock lobster were traded during the surveillance operation. The wholesale commercial value of the paua at $130 a kilo is $18,655. Three vehicles allegedly used in the commission of the offences have also been seized.

“This is particularly disappointing,” said Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley. “I congratulate Fishery Officers for their continued vigilance in ensuring people abide by the laws that manage our fisheries resources. People like this must be stopped – this sort of behaviour won’t be tolerated. Maintaining an effective deterrence against illegal activity is a key government priority.”

ENDS

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