Fine sends poachers an important message
This week’s conviction of Gisborne sickness beneficiary Antonio Joseph Curtis (38) for possessing 76 undersize rock lobster sends an important message to poachers, says Neville Buckley, Fisheries Manager East Coast District.
“Fisheries officers are watching, protecting fisheries for the whole community. While there’s a growing awareness of the need to fish sustainably and stay within daily limits, some people choose to ignore it. This sentence shows that poaching will not be tolerated.”
Mr Curtis was convicted and fined $3,000 plus costs of $440. His sister-in-law’s Nissan car, which he was driving at the time he was stopped, was also forfeit to the Crown.
During a defended hearing in the Gisborne District Court, fishery officers Grant Dickson and Tatai Kutia gave evidence that on the evening of 15 December 2005 they observed three people in a 14 foot boat near Sponge Bay Island in the vicinity of crayfish floats.
When the vessel passed Kaiti Beach the officers lost sight of it for a short time before it returned to the harbour boat ramp. At that time, only Curtis and one other person were on board and, when inspected by the officers, no catch was found.
The two departed but, a short time later, Curtis was observed returning to Kaiti Beach in his sister-in-law’s car and a third person, carrying a pack, got in. Curtis was stopped by fishery officers not far from his home and his passenger ran off, leaving the pack containing 76 undersize rock lobster in the boot.
Fisheries Prosecutor Morgan Dunn said that Curtis had been involved in a poaching ring and he sought an order for forfeiture of the vehicle that Curtis had been driving.
In his defence, Curtis claimed that only he and one other person had gone out fishing and that they had thrown back their catch because the rock lobsters were undersize. He said he returned to Kaiti Beach for “time out” after an argument with his girlfriend and had picked up an unknown hitchhiker who was heading to the same street that he lived in and that he had not known there were rock lobster in the pack.
Judge Adeane described Curtis’ story as “close to preposterous” and found that three people had been operating in a clandestine fashion, landing fish away from the boat.
In sentencing Curtis, Judge Adeane said the commercial cray fishery was a brittle one involving huge amounts of money to participate in a legal fashion and it was in the public interest that deterrent sentences are imposed when people take large numbers of undersize rock lobster.
It was the second fisheries case heard this week in which fishery officers had observed groups concealing large amounts of undersize rock lobster before returning to the boat ramp “empty handed”.
“It is always disappointing when this sort of thing is happening to the resource. It risks the long term sustainability of our fisheries,” says Neville Buckley.
“If everyone stays within the limits there can be fish for the future.”