Flaxmere man Jeremy Hepi made headlines for the wrong reasons this week.

The 38-year-old appeared in court after taking 300 undersized paua and attempting to gap it from fishery officers.

No one knows why he did it. If it were to feed the family, there'd be a modicum of sympathy for his actions.

Yet the more likely motivation was alluded to by Ministry for Primary Industries Hawke's Bay/Wairarapa District compliance manager, Ray McKay, who said large seizures were likely to be servicing a "substantial black market trade".


"That trade spans local, nationwide and international markets," he said. "The implications of black market poaching cannot be underestimated. They include seriously compromising New Zealand's ability to manage the paua stock sustainably, and an annual loss of revenue to New Zealand in excess of $10m. It also restricts the rights of both recreational and customary fishers."

The global appetite for abalone has reached alarming levels.

A few weeks ago a friend and I went rock hopping for paua at Mangakuri Beach. They were there, but all were undersized by a slim margin. I took that to mean people were leaving the right ones alone.

The minimum legal length of 125mm is an arbitrary line between a fine or fritter.

But it's a line no one should cross - especially if, like Hepi, you cross it 300 times.

Quite appropriately, he was sentenced to 300 hours community work. Seems fair, given that's an hour's work for every undersized paua he pilfered from the Blackhead Beach briny.

Here's hoping he uses those hours to reflect on the large dent he made in the local paua population.