Fishery Officers smash major paua poaching ring
27 May 2008
In the early hours of this morning more than 130 Fishery Officers supported by around 70 police began simultaneous enforcement actions in Auckland, Wellington, Opotiki and Hastings as the final phase of Operation PAID (Paua and Illegal Divers).
With regard to paua poaching this is the largest investigation ever to be centred on Wellington and is the largest operation of its kind since 2002.
Operation PAID has been a twelve month covert operation targeting the organised poaching, sale and distribution of paua from the Wellington coastline.
“The theft of paua is a direct attack on the rights and natural heritage of all law abiding New Zealanders. It is a criminal enterprise motivated entirely by greed, targeting paua stocks which are easily accessible. It deprives recreational fishers of the opportunity to access the resource; it is destroying an iconic customary fishery and it is depriving the commercial industry and the New Zealand economy of millions in domestic and export earnings.
"If it is allowed to continue on the scale identified in this and previous operations, it will destroy the local fishery,” said Ministry of Fisheries National Investigations Manager Shaun Driscoll.
A key aspect of the operation has been the deployment of a ‘special duties fishery officer’ working undercover since September last year to infiltrate a major paua poaching ring and identify the key criminals involved.
“Today’s termination will see around 65 suspects apprehended in relation to over 300 possible serious charges. In addition to those suspects who will be dealt with today, a further eight offenders have already been placed before the courts as a result of associated enforcement actions that were initiated during the course of the operation,” said Mr Driscoll.
“In addition, we expect to confiscate around 35 motor vehicles and other property used to commit fisheries offences.”
Operation PAID has involved the monitored, evidential purchase by the undercover officer of over 9 tonnes of paua (greenweight), representing more than 36,000 individual fish. This paua was on-sold to a number of ‘buyers’ who are central to this criminal enterprise (however these sales represent only part of their illegal trading operations). These buyers are then either distributing the illegal paua into the domestic market or on-selling it to high level dealers who are involved in both domestic and export distribution.
“The theft of paua in the Wellington region is organised and the distribution chain is complex. The people involved in paua poaching rings like this are seasoned criminals, often members or associates of gangs, who are often involved in other criminal activity,” Mr Driscoll said.
“A number of the criminals who will be apprehended today are recidivist offenders who earn substantial livings from this activity. They have no regard for the law or the damage they do to this precious natural resource.”
Operation PAID began in September 2007 after months of planning and training. It was undertaken following intelligence which suggested that the theft of paua from the Wellington area was on the rise again.
While previous operations were successful in identifying and shutting down a range of distribution and illegal export methods, it became evident that demand for stolen paua was again increasing and groups of illegal divers were stealing paua from the Wellington coastline to meet that demand.
“The Ministry of Fisheries has been very successful in suppressing the illegal paua trade and in particular at denying these criminals opportunities to smuggle illegal paua out of the country through traditional avenues,” Mr Driscoll said.
"A number of initiatives in conjunction with border security agencies, including the deployment of trained paua sniffer dogs, has made it much harder to smuggle illegal seafood.”
Mr Driscoll said that fishery officers and investigators had worked extremely hard over the period of the operation and all law abiding New Zealanders could be proud of their efforts. “We know that paua is an important fishery to a wide cross-section of New Zealanders and we will continue to work very hard to protect it.
“All New Zealanders can play their part in stopping poachers and protecting our paua fisheries for future generations.
“If people see any suspicious or illegal activity they should take down as many details as they can and call MFish on our dedicated hot-line 0800 4 POACHER,” Mr Driscoll said