Fishery Officers bust 'family' black market fishing operation in Waikato
September 4 2003
Fishery officers today (Thursday) raided houses in Kawhia and Te Kuiti and seized vessels, vehicles, computer hard drives and documents as they moved to close down a sophisticated family-operated black market fishing operation.
The operation involved 15 fisheries staff from throughout the Auckland and Waikato regions and came as a result of intensive investigations by MFish (Ministry of Fisheries) staff.
The area's District Compliance Manager, Ian Bright, said the family had been knowingly operating outside the Quota Management System and relying on their remote location to escape detection.
"It is very disappointing when individuals like this seek to undermine what is generally considered one of the world's very best fishery management tools," he says.
"The QMS (Quota Management System) relies heavily on the honesty and integrity of the commercial fishing community, as much of this activity takes place either 'over the horizon' or in remote locations, like Kawhia.
"As in most walks of life, the vast majority of commercial fishing operators are law abiding and play their part ¾ which is why the QMS has been so successful. However, in this case, it appears greed and a belief that they would not be caught persuaded these people to set up their own catch and distribution system, completely outside the law."
Mr Bright says the family ran two boats out of Kawhia Harbour, one which fished inside the harbour and caught flounder and mullet, while the other fished "outside" in the Tasman Sea, catching a number of prized table fish such as snapper, trevally, gurnard, hapuku and bass, as well as kahawai and shark.
The fish were deliberately not reported and instead of going through a Licenced Fish Receiver as required by law, the fish were sold direct to members of the public in the central North Island from a base in Te Kuiti.
"The vast majority of those buying the fish had no idea that it was being illegally sold," says Mr Bright. "In fact this family's client list numbered over 100 individuals and organisations and included prominent members of their communities.
Mr Bright says it is still too early to determine the total extent of the family's offending although MFish has determined that more than 6 tonnes of quota species shark were taken and recorded as a non-quota species in just the last 9 months.
"We have also spoken to a customer who has bought about a kilogram of skinned and boned snapper and gurnard fillets on a weekly basis for a number of years from this family. When the amount she had purchased was calculated, the total was a staggering 900 kilograms of fillet. This equates to approximately 2.4 tonnes of whole fish ¾ and she is just one of more than a hundred ordinary people who have been an unwitting part of this scam!"
Mr Bright says it is likely that the various members of the family will face a number of charges laid under the Fisheries Act.
"A vertically integrated operation like this, where all aspects are controlled by one tight-knit group, are potentially the most damaging to the integrity of the QMS," he says.
"When we uncover deliberate breaches of this nature we will always seek to vigorously prosecute them and protect both the system and the majority of commercial fishing operators who work within it."
For more information please contact:
District Compliance Manager
Ministry of Fisheries
Phone: (09) 820-7653.