A significant increase in the illegal selling of seafood via Facebook has prompted the Ministry for Primary Industries to warn those responsible that they are breaching the Fisheries Act, and are in jeopardy of severe penalties.

As of this week, so far this year the ministry had received more than 160 calls and emails reporting Facebook posts by people selling recreationally caught seafood, including crayfish, kina and paua, Fisheries compliance manager Greg Keys said. That was a significant increase on last year's 96 complaints, and the 57 received in 2015.

The 2017 figure did not include multiple reports about the same post, so in reality the number of complaints was significantly higher.

Mr Keys suspected that most people who were advertising seafood for sale knew what they were doing was illegal.

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"This is simply another vehicle that people use to illegally sell recreational catch," he said.

"Both buying and selling recreationally caught seafood, as well as swapping it, is against the law. These are offences against the Fisheries Act, and can result in fines of up to $250,000."

The ministry was expecting to see an increase in illegal selling as warmer weather set in, and would investigate every incident that was reported.

"The rules are in place to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries, as well as to ensure seafood meets food safety standards," Mr Keys said.

"For example, we were recently alerted to the illegal sale of kina on Facebook, where the kina in question were from an area under a shellfish biotoxin alert.

"It's always disappointing to see people flouting the rules. What is great, however, is an increase in the number of people who approach us via our various channels to report suspicious or illegal behaviour."

Ensuring and promoting sustainable fisheries was a collective responsibility, and people were encouraged to report poaching or illegal activity by calling 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476-224), emailing poacher@mpi.govt.nz, or using the main Facebook site www.facebook.com/MPIgovtnz/

The Ministry for Primary Industries also had regional Facebook pages, including facebook.com/MPIFisheriesNorthland/. Information that would be useful to investigators included the location, vehicle/trailer registration numbers, boat names, a description of the person/s and screenshots of internet listings.

All correspondence was treated as confidential.