Members of a black market crayfish poaching ring in eastern New Zealand that netted thousands of dollars in illegal sales have been sentenced to home detention and community work.
The sentences, in the Whakatane District Court, follow a major Fisheries New Zealand investigation that ran from December 2020 to August 2021 into the illegal harvesting of thousands of crayfish from Mahia Peninsula, using falsified customary permits. The crayfish was sold on the black market throughout Auckland, Kawerau, Tauranga, Gisborne, Wairoa, Mahia, and Napier.
Fisheries New Zealand regional compliance manager Jodie Cole said local iwi and marae leaders had no knowledge or involvement in the offending and are also victims of the deception.
‘The blame for this offending lies squarely with the defendants.’
Ringleaders Martin Te Iwingaro Ernest Paul and his daughter Whareake Tamaku Paul earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of selling 1449 crayfish between September 2020 and August 2021 on the black market for a total of $43,140.
Martin Paul received nine months’ home detention and his daughter received eight months home detention and 100 hours community work. A vehicle and a number of electronic devices used in the offending were also forfeit.
‘Martin Paul would provide details of a fake event, the fisher would use those false details to obtain a customary permit claiming the seafood was for a hui or tangi, who the gatherers were and where the events were being held. Yet these so-called events were a work of fiction and the marae or venue contacts had no idea their facilities were being named on permits,’ said Jodie Cole, commenting tha the Pauls were key to this illegal operation.
‘This was a carefully coordinated and organised black market operation. Whareake Paul was considered the accountant and took charge of managing orders and payments into family accounts. They were on-selling the crayfish for prices ranging from $25 to $60, depending on the size. The Pauls were the ringleaders of this scheme.’
Fishery officers became aware of these illegal sales on discovering that Whareake Paul was selling raffle tickets for a large seafood prize via a Facebook group. ‘We launched an investigation and found evidence of a major crayfish poaching operation. Neither the Pauls nor the fisher had quota to take crayfish from Mahia and they were motivated solely by financial gain,’ he said.
The Pauls sold nearly 1500 crayfish, with most of the sales were to other members of the syndicate being sentenced on the same day in Whakatane District Court. The other members did not make a profit from the offending but were involved in either the collection of or buying and on-selling of the illegally harvested crayfish to whanau and friends at prices far below the usual commercial rates.
Sentences ordering community service and fines have been handed to a number of members of the ring, including Dean Hemi Karepa, who acted as the courier and made 23 return trips to Wairoa to collect crayfish.
A number other people alleged to be involved in facilitating the black-market poaching operation are still to appear before the court.
‘These crayfish were being sold at an extremely low price. If you’re offered seafood at a price that appears too good to be true – assume it was probably harvested illegally,’ Jodie Cole said. ‘We’d advise not to buy it, and to let us know.’