South Island black market fish sales stopped in their tracks
23 April 2010
The Ministry of Fisheries has stopped a number of South Island commercial fish dealers who have allegedly been buying and selling fish illegally over the last six months.
Twenty-seven businesses across the mid to lower South Island from the West Coast to Invercargill have been visited and people associated with them interviewed. Further action is now being considered.
“For this operation we used covert agents who were able to establish contact with both sellers and buyers of fish,” said Dean Baigent, Ministry of Fisheries National Manager Regional Services. “Purchases and sales were made through these contacts. Fish species involved were paua, blue cod, elephant fish and other finfish used in the fish and chip and restaurant trade.”
Most of the sales were conducted at unusual times or in unusual places and without any dockets or sales invoices – these are required under fisheries legislation. The fish supplied was mainly intended for sale through the businesses but in some cases was for the buyer’s own use.
“The rules relating to buying and selling fish are clear,” Mr Baigent said. “Only fish from a commercial source can be sold and there must be a clear audit trail of documents to support the transactions.
“The successful conclusion of this operation is due largely to the commitment of a small and dedicated team who worked professionally and diligently to achieve the results,” Mr Baigent said. “There are still a number of enquiries to be made in relation to fish we have found and documentary reconciliation. Once these are completed we will have a clearer picture of what charges will be considered and also of any illegal networks these people may be involved in.”
Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Phil Heatley said he applauded the work of Fishery Officers in the long-term and wide ranging operation.
“I am sure this result will send a strong message to those involved in illegal sales and purchases that this activity will not be tolerated and we are totally committed to dealing with this problem,” he said.
The risks of offending against the Fisheries Act 1996 and associated regulations are high. Penalties for Fisheries Act offences, which include buying and selling illegal fish, include imprisonment for up to five years, fines up to $250,000 and forfeiture of fish and property used in the offending - this can include cars and boats.
Members of the public are encouraged to call the Ministry’s 0800 4 POACHER line if they see any potentially illegal activity.