Two Northland men caught with more than $1000 worth of stolen oysters after a Bay of Islands boat chase claimed the shellfish delicacy belonged "to the world at large".

Charles Dunn, 42, of Whangarei, and George Reti, 55, of Oakura, were spotted in a boat helping themselves to oysters from Alan Brain's Waikare Inlet farm in November last year, Kaikohe District Court was told.

Mr Brain had jumped into his boat and followed the pair to Okiato, where he picked up a police constable, and intercepted the men on the water. They were ordered to Opua where the men were arrested and charged with theft. Oysters with a wholesale value of about $1200, taken from the oyster racks and the bed of the inlet nearby, were recovered.

The men pleaded not guilty and had a defended hearing before Judge Greg Davis last month. One of the issues was whether the oysters collected from the seabed next to the racks were Mr Brain's property or belonged "to the world at large".


In a reserved decision released in the Kaikohe District Court on Friday, Judge Davis ruled those oysters had been stolen, because they were in the area leased by Mr Brain.

Dunn was bailed until December 13 to give the court time to check the suitability of his Otangarei home for electronic detention. His lengthy criminal history ruled out a fine or community work, the judge said.

Reti, whose last court appearance was 40 years ago, was sentenced to 70 hours' community work.

Judge Davis said Mr Brain had been subject to many thefts over a long period and was considering giving up oyster farming.

"It's frustrated him no end ... this type of thieving is a direct attack on his livelihood, and his ability to function as a taxpayer and a member of society."