A Whangarei commercial fisherman fined for possessing black coral was not even aware it was illegal to keep them, in only the second prosecution on record for having the threatened species.

Darrin John Bradley, 50, of Titoki told the Whangarei District Court this week a large quantity of black coral found in his home had belonged to his father and he got the pieces off his mother about 10 years ago.

Officials from the Ministry of Primary Industries recovered the black coral after executing a search warrant at his Titoki home on June 26, 2015.

The amount seized is unknown, as the ministry did not weigh them because weight is not an element of the charge of "taking and possession of black coral".


Black coral is a species under threat. The coral is usually found in deep water and is extremely slow growing, normally about 2cm each year. They are highly sought after for use in jewellery and other handicrafts and some existing stocks are centuries old. There is a total prohibition in place because of sustainability issues.

Fishermen must return black coral immediately to the sea if brought up in nets or lines.

Ministry spokesman Jim Flack said while there may well be a black market for it, charges for possessing it were rare.

The only other case on the ministry's records was from Invercargill in 2006 when a recreational fisherman was fined $1000 for possessing them. The maximum penalty for possession of black coral is $10,000 for amateur fishers and $100,000 for commercial fishers.

Bradley told Fisheries officers he was not aware it was illegal to possess black coral, but knew it was illegal to catch them. He said he regularly caught them while commercially long-lining and did not record or report them, but put them back.

Bradley revealed, during the MPI search, that there was more black coral in his home that the ministry did not locate, along with bamboo coral and golden coral which were also endangered species.

He volunteered to bring them to the MPI office in Whangarei.

His lawyer Kelly Ellis said he had been on an ACC benefit for five months due to an ongoing infection in his hands.

Judge Duncan Harvey said he accepted Bradley was honest in his dealing with officials but as a commercial fisherman, he should have known the rules around possession of black coral. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse."

Bradley was fined $1000 and ordered to pay $130 in court costs. He initially pleaded not guilty but changed his plea in court this week.