An oyster farmer's detective work plus private CCTV footage has led to an arrest in a case involving the theft of half a tonne of prime Whangaroa oysters.
Last week the Northern Advocate ran a story about who the theft of 38 sacks of harvested, pre-processed oysters from Owen Robertson's Whangaroa farm.
Mr Robertson said small-scale thefts were common but it was the first time anyone had stolen shellfish on such a scale. Each sack contained nine dozen oysters with the lot worth more than $3400 on the black market.
Not only did the theft threaten his livelihood and his workers' jobs, it put public health at risk because the oysters had not been cleared for eating.
Mr Robertson offered a reward in cash or oysters for information leading to an arrest, but he didn't sit back and wait.
He tracked down private CCTV footage which led him to a suspect who admitted taking five bags.
The man, a former oyster worker at another farm, agreed to work for Mr Robertson for 10 days if he didn't report him to the police.
However, the man "started blowing nose bubbles" at the prospect of having to work hard for 10 days, and tried to renege on the deal.
Mr Robertson passed his name to Kaeo police and he was arrested the same day.
The person who provided the CCTV footage was rewarded with a sack of "the fattest oysters you've ever seen". Mr Robertson also paid for an upgrade of the security cameras.
He was pleased with the arrest but said he wanted everyone involved held to account, including those who had sold the stolen shellfish.
The Ministry for Primary Industries is also involved with a team of fishery officers arriving in Whangaroa yesterday afternoon.
MPI Northland compliance manager Steve Rudsdale said they were conducting background inquiries and hoped to speak to the offender to find out where the stolen shellfish had gone. The area the oysters had been taken from was closed to harvesting at the time.
For heath reasons he warned against eating shellfish bought online or on the street if their source couldn't be verified. It was also illegal to sell feral oysters which had been recreationally gathered.
After last week's story several readers alerted the Advocate to a South Auckland Facebook post selling Whangaroa oysters.
Mr Rudsdale said those oysters were not linked to the theft but appeared to be feral and therefore illegal. MPI was following strong leads in that case.
Sergeant Ross Laurie, of Kerikeri police, confirmed a 31-year-old Whangaroa man had been arrested and charged with theft. He had admitted taking five sacks of oysters but denied any part in the larger theft. Inquiries were continuing to locate any other people who may have been involved.
Mr Laurie said oysters were at their fattest at this time of year and at their most tempting to thieves. Anyone who bought oysters knowing they might have been stolen could be charged with receiving stolen property.