13 March 2002
Fishery Officers from all over New Zealand this morning began the final phase of "Operation Pacman" targeting more than 100 people identified in an undercover investigation into the poaching, black marketing and export of rock lobster and paua.
Over 140 officers commenced simultaneous actions in Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Poverty Bay, Wellington and Christchurch after deployment from operations headquarters at Ohakea airbase.
Termination of Operation Pacman follows six months work by special duties fishery officers working undercover to identify major poaching and blackmarket activities. "Six months of undercover work has provided us with evidence of very significant illegal fishing operations and blackmarket distribution networks," said National Compliance Manager, Dave Wood.
"We have identified sophisticated illegal trading of rock lobster within New Zealand and the exporting to Asia of very large quantities of illegally taken paua. The termination phase will involve the apprehension of alleged offenders, the seizure of evidence and illegal fish product as well as boats and motor vehicles used by the alleged offenders", Mr Wood said. "There will be a number of arrests and we are anticipating some of our targets may be obstructive," he said.
Planning for the operation commenced two years ago with intelligence gathering and treat assessment. Levels of illegal poaching and black-market sales were estimated to be in the order of 300 tonnes of paua and 100 tonnes of rock lobster annually from the Wellington and East Coast areas. The Ministry of Fisheries determined that new tactics were needed to increase the rate of detection of offences and to take advantage of new penalties provided in fisheries legislation. Deliberate illegal fishing can now attract penalties of up to $250,000 and five years imprisonment.
"Over the next few days we expect to apprehend a large number of alleged offenders out of more than 100 identified targets", Dave Wood said, "these will include individual poachers, retail shops and restaurants, black-marketeers and exporters, and some commercial fishers."
Fishery Officers from Kaitaia to Invercargill assembled at the Ohakea airbase on Monday under the guise of a National Training Conference. Full operational briefings commenced late in the afternoon and continued through Tuesday. The Christchurch operational teams travelled on Tuesday night and the remainder in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Teams deploying to Gisborne and the East Coast, Bay of Plenty and Auckland boarded their C130 Hercules aircraft at Ohakea at around 3am. Simultaneous operations commenced at 7am and will continue for the next dew days.
The Ministry of Fisheries received valuable support from the New Zealand Defence Forces. The RNZAF provided the operational headquarters, accommodation and logistical support, and air transport for operational teams. The NZ Police and Navy dive teams provided local support to the Fishery Officer teams.
"For a small organisation such as ours, this is a very big undertaking." Dave Wood said, "we have never before mobilised every Fishery Officer in a single operation. We would not have been able to take on this scale of operation without the very considerable support of the NZ Defence Forces and Police," he said.
For further information, please contact:
Alan Meek, Communications Manager, Ministry of Fisheries
Operation Pacman HQ, Ohakea
06 3515 766/021 822/588