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Suspected illegal paua divers caught off Chathams

Fisheries-Navy patrol catches suspected illegal paua divers off Chathams

Four commercial fishers believed to have been illegally scuba diving for paua have been caught off the Chatham Islands by a joint Ministry of Fisheries and Royal New Zealand Navy Fisheries patrol.

A fisheries officer in a RNZN Seasprite helicopter off the frigate HMNZS Canterbury spotted the men on Sunday. They appeared to be scuba diving for paua off Pitt Island, the largest of the Chatham Islands. Diving for paua is legal only with a snorkel.

Two fisheries officers in one of the Canterbury's support craft boarded the divers' boat and found about 250 kilograms of paua onboard, along with scuba gear. The paua, still alive, were returned to the sea. The catch was potentially worth about $10,000. The divers' boat has been seized by the Ministry and impounded on the Chathams.

The fishers will face charges with possible penalties of up to $100,000 in fines, along with forfeiture of their boat and scuba gear.

"Commercial fishers on the Chathams should take note of the apprehension of these men," said the Ministry's district compliance manager in Dunedin, Murray Pridham.

"Earlier in the year we caught some commercial fishers scuba diving for rock lobster and they too face the possibility of substantial penalties. Fishers need to realise that they can be caught if they break the rules, even in remote areas, and the cost of illegal fishing can be very high."

Mr Pridham said working with the Navy allowed for very effective fisheries enforcement operations in isolated waters such as those around the Chathams. "This joint Fisheries-Navy operation has been extremely successful and we look forward to working together again."

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