The owner of a New Zealand seafood company has been landed with heavy penalties following the uncovering of a commercial scam concerning almost $1 million worth of black market pāua and crayfish from the Chatham Islands.
Michael Vernon Weaver and his company Southern Ocean Seafoods Limited faced 19 joint charges under the Fisheries Act 1996. He pleaded guilty to charges related to trading more than 12 tonnes of unreported seafood, valued at more than $900,000. He was sentenced in the Manukau District Court in July, but name suppression was in place until now.
Appearing before Judge Grau in July, he was sentenced to 12 months home detention and fined $525,000. Additionally, his company Southern Ocean Seafoods Limited, for which Michael Weaver is the sole director, has been fined $525,000. More than 1600kg of his company’s crayfish quota shares valued at over $1.2 million have also been forfeited to the Crown.
MPI’s investigation found that under Michael Weaver’s management, Snapper Seafoods Ltd received unreported seafood between January 2017 and March 2018 from Chatham Islands fishers Kevan Huia Clarke and Robin Andrew Page, who were sentenced last year sentenced for their roles in the scam.
MPI director of compliance services, Gary Orr, says Mr Weaver was critical to the illegal operation.
‘Without Mr Weaver’s company, Southern Ocean Seafoods Limited, this offending by the commercial fishers would not have been possible. He colluded with the fishers involved, agreeing to false amounts of fish to declare for the record. It should be noted that Mr Weaver deliberately misled Snapper Seafoods, the company he used to receive the illegal catch,’ he said, adding that Snapper Seafoods were not aware of the deception and were not charged.
‘Mr Weaver’s sentence ends a long running MPI investigation into the offending and sends a strong message – this kind of offending will be investigated and placed before the courts,’ Gary Orr said.
‘Whether you’re a commercial fisher or involved in the management of landed fish product – records will be inspected. If we find evidence of illegal operations, we will hold you to account. The investigation unfolded after fishery officers found more than half a tonne of unreported pāua in Chatham Island fisher Kevan Clarke’s catch documentation. Further investigation found more discrepancies between reported catch and what had been reported as received by Mr Weaver and his company Southern Ocean Seafoods Ltd.’