Gemmell Webster knew toheroa were not on the menu but he decided to take 145 anyway from Northland's Ripiro Beach.

However, his decision to collect the prohibited shellfish for "a family feed" landed him in court and will be something he no doubt ponders as he carries out his punishment of 100 hours of community work.

The 33-year-old, from Aratapu near Dargaville, was stopped by an honorary fisheries officer on March 9, 2019, at Glinks Gully. The officer found a bucket with 145 toheroa in it.

Webster explained he had got the shellfish for the family and he also knew they were a prohibited shellfish.

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He did not have a customary permit allowing him to take the shellfish either and they were returned to the ocean.

Webster recently appeared in the Manukau District Court and was sentenced to 100 hours community work and ordered to pay court costs.

The toheroa fishery was closed across New Zealand in 1981 and it is deemed illegal to "take or disturb" toheroa.

Ripiro Beach along the west coast of Northland is one of the few locations in New Zealand that toheroa are able to grow.

This particular part of Northland's West Coast is very easy to access by the public, with people being able to drive vehicles to the toheroa beds.

The only exception to the ban on taking toheroa is for people with a customary fishing permit.

MPI Upper North Island regional manager Stephen Rudsdale says fishery officers are tasked with monitoring compliance across recreational, customary and commercial sectors.

It was disappointing when people broke the rules and took the shellfish as it was widely known all beaches were closed to toheroa take.

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"We are protecting important taonga that are central to our way of life. If areas of toheroa are cleaned out, this will impact severely on the ability of the already threatened toheroa to reproduce," Rudsdale said. "We all have a part to play in the future, safety, sustainability and welfare of our fisheries."

Toheroa have a poor reproductive ability and are broadcast spawners so to breed successfully have to live in clumps.

If large areas of toheroa are cleaned out it would severely impact the ability of the shellfish to reproduce.


What are toheroa?

Paphies ventricosa, or toheroa (a Māori word meaning "long tongue"), is a large bivalve mollusc of the family Mesodesmatidae, endemic to New Zealand.

It is found in both the North and South Islands, but the main habitat is the west coast of the North Island. The best grounds are wide, fine-sand beaches where there are extensive sand-dunes, enclosing freshwater, which percolates to the sea, there promoting the growth of diatoms and plankton.

The toheroa is a very large shellfish with a solid, white, elongated shell with the apex at the middle. Maximum length is 117 mm, height 81 mm, and thickness 38 mm.