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Forensic first in fish investigation – big fine imposed

8 November 2011

Forensic first in fish investigation – big fine imposed

In a New Zealand first, the Ministry of Fisheries reported today that forensic paint sampling had been used to identify the location of a vessel where fish was illegally dumped.

Tauranga commercial fisher Ross Ian Harvey pleaded guilty in the Tauranga District Court on 12 September to a charge of being a party to the dumping of snapper by West Coast Fishing Limited.

Harvey was today fined $27,000, which is believed to be one of the largest fines for this type of offending.

Initially the case had been set down for a two-week defended hearing due to the involved nature of the case which had 13 witnesses for the Crown.

The incident occurred on the 6 August 2009 when Harvey was skipper of the commercial Danish Seine fishing vessel Garraway.

A local recreational fisher came across an estimated 1,000 snapper floating about 4 kilometres north of the Ohiwa Harbour entrance in the eastern Bay of Plenty. The fisher provided a GPS position and estimated that there was an area of approximately 4,000 square metres with snapper floating in it.

On arrival at the scene, Opotiki Fishery Officers collected samples of snapper still floating. All were found to be well over the minimum commercial size limit of 25 centimetres.

Tom Teneti, Field Operations Manager for Poverty Bay, said dumping of legal size quota species is prohibited under the Fisheries Act 1996 because all legal size quota species must be landed and counted against the fisher’s annual catch entitlement (ACE).

“The Fishery Officers found blue paint embedded under the scales of two of the snapper,” Mr Teneti said. “The paint was scientifically tested by the University of Otago Chemistry Isotrace unit. This contributed to identification of the source of the dumped snapper - the Garraway.”

Electronic evidence obtained from the vessel was also used in the investigation to identify the vessel as being in the vicinity at the time the fish were dumped.

“A process of elimination was applied to make sure no other vessel could have been involved in the vicinity of the detected dumping,” Mr Teneti said.

He congratulated Fishery Officers and those who undertook the forensic examination on their work.

Background

The paint samples provided a unique signature and ultimately a strong case against the fisher charged.

Paint samples were analysed by the Isotrace Unit of University of Otago Chemistry Isotrace unit using Laser-Ablative Inductively Coupled Plasma Spectroscopy (LA-ICPMS).

The ICPMS determines the proportions of various elements and isotopes in a sample, to very fine concentrations. Using this in conjunction with multivariate statistical methods to analyse the data suggested that both the paint found on the snapper and paint from the Garraway were similar in their fine scale isotopic composition and distinct from other samples obtained during the investigation.

If the case had proceeded to a defended hearing, 13 witnesses would have been called including three scientists, a specialist statistician (to provide evidence on multivariate analysis), and computer forensic specialists.

ENDS

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