Aggressive Minister fined $2000 and loses boat
December 8, 2004
An Assembly of God church minister who threatened a fishery officer with an oar after being caught with a large quantity of excess snapper on Hauraki Gulf was fined a total of $2000 when he appeared in the Manukau Court today.
Laulelei Tapui, a pastor at the Otara Church of God, was also ordered to pay court costs of $260 and had his outboard-powered fibreglass boat, fishing equipment and catch forfeited to the Crown.
Tapui had faced three charges: possession of excess snapper (for which he was fined $1000, plus $130 court costs and the forfeiture of his vessel and associated fishing equipment); obstruction of a fishery officer (for which he received a fine of $500 plus courts costs); and common assault (for which he received a further $500 fine).
Another man, Kata Finau, was also involved in the incident and received fines of $3500 for possessing excess fish and obstructing a fishery officer by throwing illegally-caught fish overboard in an effort to prevent detection.
Tapui was one of three men who were fishing in a 4.8 metre fibreglass boat between Pakatoa and Rotorua at 8.30pm on December 18 last year. The trio were spotted by a fishery patrol vessel, which pulled alongside and despatched two fishery officers in an inflatable tender to check the three men's catch.
Although the pair told the fishery officers that they did not understand or speak English, they indicated that they knew the size and bag limits and had kept to them. They showed the fishery officers a chilly bin containing a legal limit of fish, all of which were of the correct size.
The fishery officers then inquired if there were any more fish on board and one of the three men clearly replied "No". The fishery officer then checked the front of the boat and found a bag containing a large quantity of snapper.
The fishery officer then repeatedly asked for this bag to be handed over so it could be examined but all three of those on board ignored these requests.
Finau then grabbed this bag and motioned as though he was going to throw it overboard. The fishery officer quickly grabbed the opposite end of the bag and a "tug of war" ensued during which Tapui grabbed the fishery officer's arm in an apparent attempt to prevent the fishery officer from taking possession of the bag.
Unfortunately, the bag then tore both apart with large quantities of snapper spilling into the vessel. Finau then picked up the spilt fish and proceeded to throw them overboard
Officers on the fishery patrol vessel managed to retrieve some of the fish while others were captured on film by a camerman filming for the Coastwatch TV show.
In sentencing the minister, Judge Simpson said that by taking excess or undersize fish he was, in fact, harming the entire fishery by taking breeding stock.
In response to Tapui's claim that he was fishing to supplement his income and family she noted that the legal limit would have been sufficient for this purpose.
Ministry of Fisheries District Compliance Manager, Matt Cowan says it is very disappointing when a Church Minister is found flouting fisheries' rules in this way and noted that this is not the first time this has happened.
"These men are supposed to be setting an example for their communities about the right way to behave.
"It is very hard to see how taking excess fish, hiding them and threatening and obstructing a fishery officer does that," he says.