A Tauranga businessman was caught illegally selling 9000kg of fish during a blackmarket sting.
Joung Oh (James) Lee was found guilty in Tauranga District Court yesterday of seven offences under the Fisheries Act.
Lee was not formally listed as a director or shareholder of ECZIW Fishing Ltd, the permit holder, but he was in all material respects the owner and operator of this business, the Ministry of Primary Industries said.
The illegal sales took place on seven occasions between September and November 2011.
Judge Christopher Harding, who delivered his reserved decision yesterday after a defended hearing this month, said he was satisfied the seven charges had been proven.
Judge Harding said there was no evidence Lee misunderstood the position in regards to his legal obligations, particularly given his earlier dealings with the director of the quota management system.
Lee's offending was uncovered during a covert surveillance operation by fisheries officers code named Waterfowl in late 2011.
That included monitoring the activities of his company's trawler Newfish II and watching bins of fish being unloaded from the vessel onto a chiller truck while berthed at Tauranga.
Fisheries officers followed the truck to Auckland.
Some fish was delivered to a fish shop in Otahuhu before the truck continued to the Auckland fish market, where the rest of the load was sold lawfully at the public fish auction.
The Otahuhu fish shop operator Tuan Tran was not a licensed fish receiver, and had also been prosecuted for his part in the same blackmarket ring.
Documents found at Tran's shop confirmed seven illegal deliveries had taken place.
A total of about 338 bins or around 9126kg of fish, mostly snapper, was delivered to Tran and sold for about $52,000.
None of the fish was recorded in any fishing returns.
The unit price paid for a whole snapper was $6/kg.
Five other defendants, including Wayne Howell, who was the skipper of the Newfish II have already been sentenced, and the trawler has been permanently confiscated.
Lee was remanded on bail yesterday pending sentencing on December 16.
Judge Harding said he was calling for a home detention appendix to accompany the probation report out of "an abundance of caution".
"But this is not an indication, Mr Lee, that I regard home detention as an appropriate sentence."
The maximum penalty for each of the offences is five years in prison and/or a fine of $250,000.
Prosecution case by the numbers
*Seven illegal fish deliveries observed.
*Involved about 9126kg, mainly snapper.
*Sold for about $52,000
*Fishing trawler Newfish II permanently seized
- Source Ministry of Primary Industries