Paua poaching prison sentence upheld
25 August 2011
The Ministry of Fisheries reported today that the Court of Appeal had upheld a sentence of nine months’ imprisonment imposed on a Taranaki paua poacher by the District Court.
The appellant, Jason Maihi Tonga, was sentenced at New Plymouth earlier this year for his part in taking 701 paua with two other offenders, both of whom abandoned their appeals and, like Tonga, are currently serving their sentences.
In upholding the sentence, the Court of Appeal said it reached its conclusion via a different route from the District Court, but made it clear that deterrence was an important element of this type of serious fisheries offending. The court said:
“On the facts of this case, we consider the Crown was right to pitch an appropriate starting point as somewhere in the range of nine to 12 months’ imprisonment. In this case, there were ... serious aggravating factors. It is necessary to respond firmly to the offending, in order to deter the offenders and others from committing the same or similar offences. In addition, it is necessary to denounce the conduct in which the offenders were engaged and to hold them accountable for their actions. In determining whether a sentence of imprisonment was required, it is also appropriate to take into account the difficulties inherent in detecting fisheries offences. A sentence of imprisonment is more likely to be seen as a deterrent to others than a sentence of home detention. We consider that a sentence of imprisonment was necessary to meet the relevant sentencing goals. We are satisfied that the appropriate sentence for Mr Tonga (and his co-offenders) was one of nine months’ imprisonment.”
There was no dispute about the facts of this case. The accused were found in possession of 701 paua, 22 times the legal limit of 30 (10 per fisher). Section 195 of the Fisheries Act 1996 creates a presumption of possession for sale when the number taken exceeds three times the limit. The offenders had explained that they were gathering the paua for a tangi. They did not have a customary permit.
Andrew Coleman, Deputy Director General Compliance and Response, said the Ministry was pleased with the outcome and applauded the seriousness with which the Court of Appeal took this offending.
“The theft of fish, especially from our precious and sensitive paua fishery, won’t be tolerated. Protection of the fishery is a big part of our brief and we need all the support we can get – from the courts, from Fishery Officers and Honorary Fishery Officers, and from members of the public.”
If you see anything illegal or suspicious in our fisheries, call 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224).