Scallop Divers Risking Big fines for failure to measure on bottom
August 12, 2003
Scallop divers risking big fines for failure to measure on bottom
Scallop divers who fail to measure their catches on the bottom and instead bring large numbers of the shellfish to the surface are risking large fines and the possibility that their vessels will be confiscated.
The Ministry of Fisheries' Auckland District compliance manager, Ian Bright, says the problem appears to be getting worse and has already surfaced again, even though the current season opened just four weeks ago.
Under the law, scallop divers must measure and count on the seabed; they are not permitted to bring up large numbers of scallops for counting and sorting on the boat.
Three divers who failed to follow those rules were recently found guilty in the Whangarei District Court and are now awaiting sentencing, which could well involve the confiscation of their vessels, one of which is a $500,000 luxury launch, (the other being a runabout valued at between $15,000 and $30,000).
The three were caught with counts of 131 (52 of which were undersized), 112 and 73 scallops, even though their legal daily limit was just 20 each. In their defence, the three all claimed that it was reasonable to surface with that number of scallops in order to measure and count their catch; and that was what they had intended to do.
However, as has happened in a number of similar cases, the Judge dismissed their claim, saying that the three were simply "high grading" and, in his opinion, that was illegal.
He said the law was clear: recreational scallop divers were required to measure and count on the seabed and, if they did not do so, they were committing an offence.
The judge also said that there was a clear difference between those diving for scallops and those who used a dredge. In both cases, the responsibility was on the gatherer to count and measure at "the first opportunity". However, the first opportunity a dredger has to measure and count is when the dredge is brought on board while divers have this opportunity on the seabed and must avail themselves of this or risk the consequences.
Ian Bright says the Ministry takes the issue very seriously and is concerned that there is still a widespread belief among divers that the practice of bringing large numbers of scallops to the surface to sort is okay.
"The simple truth is that it is not okay and it never has been okay," he says. "Scallop divers have been prosecuted and found guilty for this practice of "high grading" for well over a decade.
"Divers who continue to follow this illegal practice face the very real possibility of substantial fines and they are also putting their vessels in jeopardy."
Ian Bright says that by measuring on the sea bed there is no suggestion that the diver is hoping to get away with an illegal catch and is first checking whether there are any enforcement officers nearby.
"Measuring on the bottom is simple," he says. "There are a number of suitable 'rings' on the market and any scallop that fits through the ring is undersized.
"Counting to 20 (the daily legal limit per diver) should also not be a burden for anyone who has learned to dive…"
For more information please contact:
District Compliance Manager
Phone: (09) 820-7653.