An Australian skipper has been fined $3000 after hiding fruit, vegetables and meat on her boat instead of declaring them to a quarantine officer in the Bay of Islands.
The sentence has been welcomed by the Kerikeri Fruitgrowers Association, with chairman Rick Curtis saying the the arrival of fritflies in the Bay of Islands via smuggled food would be the industry's worst nightmare. A strong deterrent was needed to make sure visiting boaties followed biosecurity rules, he said.
Fruit growers were pleased the courts were taking the risk posed by visiting yachties bringing in prohibited goods seriously.
If a breeding population of Queensland or Mediterranean fruitflies became established the effects would be devastating - not just for the Bay's multi-million dollar horticulture industry, but also for hundreds of people who worked in associated businesses.
Mr Curtis commended Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff for their dedication and vigilance.
The court was told Dianne Margaret Joy Young, 64, stashed eggs, oranges, apples, tomatoes, pumpkin, pineapple, onions, kumara, ginger, garlic, spring onions, meat patties, ham, eggplant, bok choy, cabbage, cucumber, capsicum and lettuce around her vessel.
When she sailed into Opua from Fiji last November her boat was subjected to a routine search by an MPI quarantine officer. The officer found fresh food hidden in compartments around the vessel.
The Australian resident pleaded guilty to possessing unauthorised goods and providing a false statement to a quarantine officer when the case was dealt with in Kaikohe District Court last week. Judge Keith de Ridder fined Young $1500 on each charge, a total of $3000.
All the food items were considered "risk goods" by MPI and could harbour pests such as the Queensland fruit fly, damaging New Zealand crops and exports.
As the food was being uncovered Ms Young initially maintained there was nothing else on board. She later showed the quarantine officer other items, saying she had intended to eat it all on board and didn't want to waste it.
MPI northern investigations manager David Blake said the conviction and fine sent a message to visiting yachties that they would face harsh consequences if they didn't take New Zealand's biosecurity rules seriously.
"The interception of the risk items shows New Zealand's biosecurity system is working. It also justifies MPI's increased biosecurity focus on arriving yachts over the last two seasons."
MPI stepped up border controls for visiting yachts in Northland following Queensland fruit fly scares in Whangarei during 2014. Each find cost taxpayers close to $1 million.
In a similar case last year, a 61-year-old French skipper was convicted and fined $3000 for hiding fruit and meat products when her vessel was inspected in Opua after arriving from New Caledonia in November 2014.
MPI staff found a bunch of green bananas, three packets of ham and a piece of dried venison. Two limes were found hidden under a scarf in a drawer and six jars of meat pate were hidden under clothes in a cupboard.
Sensible Sentencing's Northland spokesman Steve Detlaff said the fine was appropriate given the enormous cost to the country if pests such as the Queensland fruit fly were to become established.
The sentences for some violent crimes were not much harsher than that meted out to the fruit-smuggling yachtie, but that was because penalties for higher-end crimes were too low rather than her penalty being too high.