Illegal seafood sales hunted

By Mike Dinsdale

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The wasabi sauce wasn't the only hot food item at a Whangarei sushi joint - the paua being used was also hot, having been bought illegally - and fisheries officers are warning those who pilfer Northland's precious seafood they will be caught.

In Hee Kim, 56, who manages the Yummy Sushi Shop in Okara Shops, was last week fined $350 for buying paua that was illegally supplied by Craig Alistair Tipene, 42.

The pair appeared in Whangarei District Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to breaching the Fisheries Act with Tipene sentenced to 150 hours' community work, and had his car forfeited to the Crown for unlawfully possessing paua and obstructing a fisheries officer.

Their sentences came just two days after fisheries officers arrested a group illegally selling oysters door-to-door in Whangarei after a tip-off from the public.

The cases have prompted praise for the actions of the public that led to all the arrests and a warning from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) that those who pillage the fisheries resource could expect to be caught.

Tipene was spotted on March 4 with two associates going to outlets in Whangarei attempting to sell paua, and sold some to Kim at the Yummy Sushi. Tipene was later seen by fisheries officers at Riverside Drive but he drove off, despite one of the officers telling him to stay where he was, and was caught two days later.

In sentencing Tipene Judge Greg Davis said he showed a wanton disregard for the fisheries legislation, which was designed to protect the resource for future generations. Judge Davis said Tipene put the lives of the fisheries officers in danger by taking off at speed when he was caught at Riverside Drive.

A tip-off from a member of the public led to the capture of a group illegally selling oysters, with an 11-year-old child taken along on the illegal enterprise.

Last Sunday fishery officers received information from the public that the group were travelling in a van selling oysters door-to-door in Tikipunga. After a second tip-off on Monday, the van was found in Otangarei. The van was followed, and fishery officers witnessed the sale of oysters to an address on the street. A fishery officer was also approached and offered oysters.

A search warrant was later executed at the Otangarei address, and clear evidence of the processing of oysters was found.

Two occupants at the address admitted to selling 35 small pottles of oysters at $5 each and 10 large pottles at $10 each.

MPI Northland compliance team leader, Stephen Rudsdale, said the case served as a reminder that the sale of recreationally taken seafood is illegal and an offence under the Fisheries Act 1996.

Those found in breach of the Act risk a maximum fine of up to $250,000 and the forfeiture of all property used during the offending.

"Fish can only be purchased from a commercial fisher or a commercially operated fish retailer. It is illegal to purchase as well as sell recreationally caught fish and those caught committing offences may face prosecution," Mr Rudsdale said.

People can report suspicious fisheries activity by phoning 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224).

- Northern Advocate

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