Big penalties for recidivist commercial fisher
23 October 2009
A Chatham Islands commercial fisher has received financial penalties totalling more than $170,000 for illegal paua fishing.
Valentine Croon Junior, 36, took an estimated 1200 kilograms of paua with a commercial value of about $39,000 using underwater breathing apparatus (UBA), which is not a permitted method.
The Chatham Islands businessman was observed by a Fishery Officer in 2007 removing scuba equipment from his fishing vessel Energizer. The scuba equipment was hidden in a small cave.
His argument that “diving on air” should be permitted in what he saw as the unique Chatham Islands fishery was not accepted by the court. District Court Judge McKegg said that despite the different views on this - Croon claimed it promoted preservation and protection from shark attacks - the current law was that UBA was prohibited in the paua fishery.
This was the offender’s fourth conviction for having UBA on a commercial vessel and his second for taking fish using UBA.
Judge McKegg took into account the premeditated nature of the offending and the need to set penalties at a level that made it “patently uneconomic” rather than a justified commercial risk in imposing these penalties:
- A $20,000 fine on the charge of possession of UBA aboard a commercial vessel
- A $65,000 fine on the charge of possession of paua taken with UBA
- A $3,350 fine on the charge of using a vessel when not the notified user
- $390 total court costs ($130 per charge)
- A $10,000 redemption fee for the return of the vessel Nancy Kay II
- A $20,000 redemption fee for the return of the offender’s vehicle
- Permanent forfeiture of the Energizer valued at $50,000
- Permanent forfeiture of scuba gear valued at $4,000.
Croon was also banned from commercial fishing for three years.
Not permitting UBA was “an effort to protect the paua fishery in deeper water, beyond the reach of divers holding their breath,” said Ministry of Fisheries Christchurch Field Operations Manager Peter Hyde. “In this way there will always be some paua left behind to maintain the breeding stock.”
Ministry of Fisheries Chief Executive Wayne McNee said he was very disappointed that Croon had not changed his behaviour despite his previous convictions for similar offences. “I hope these penalties serve as a warning to others who might be similarly tempted, wherever they are fishing,” Mr McNee said.
“I applaud the work of our staff following through on one of the actions in the Fisheries 2030 goal and action plan: ‘Optimise the level of voluntary compliance with fisheries laws and standards and maintain an effective deterrence against illegal activity’,“ Wayne McNee concluded.