A group of commercial fishers have been snapped for illegally catching more than 20 tonnes of fish and onselling it to an Auckland fish supply business.

The fishermen were allegedly under-reporting how many fish they were catching and unlawfully onselling the snapper, Ministry for Primary Industries claims.

MPI alleges the commercial fishers were under-reporting how much fish they caught from the lower firth of Thames.

More than 20 tonnes of fish is understood to have been illegally caught in the lower Firth of Thames and onsold to an Auckland fish supplier in the past year. Photo / Getty Images
More than 20 tonnes of fish is understood to have been illegally caught in the lower Firth of Thames and onsold to an Auckland fish supplier in the past year. Photo / Getty Images

In December, 45 fishery officers along with police executed searches at five locations including three residential properties across the Auckland and Waikato regions.

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The search uncovered 800kg of undocumented grey mullet and kahawai and 230kg of undocumented snapper.

During the operation $25,000 in cash was seized, along with six commercial fishing vessels and a refrigerated truck.

Electronic devices including phones and computers were also seized and are undergoing analysis.

Eight people have been interviewed so far and could face prosecution.

MPI's team manager of fisheries compliance in the western North Island Andre Espinoza said it is estimated the group may have supplied in excess of 20 tonnes of unreported fish to legitimate businesses over the past twelve months.

"There are measures in place to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries, including accurate and truthful catch reporting. Those who don't respect the rules will be appropriately dealt with under the law."

More than 20 tonnes of fish is understood to have been illegally caught in the lower Firth of Thames and onsold to an Auckland fish supplier in the past year. Photo / Google
More than 20 tonnes of fish is understood to have been illegally caught in the lower Firth of Thames and onsold to an Auckland fish supplier in the past year. Photo / Google

MPI had a zero-tolerance approach to any type of fisheries offending because when catch was not recorded it reduced the sustainable take and had a negative impact on sustainability of the fish stocks," a spokesperson added.

Fishery officers have increased patrols over the summer season and are closely monitoring the area.

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Seafood NZ chief executive Tim Pankhurst said, while he was only made aware of the investigation today, he fully supported any MPI Fisheries New Zealand action against illegal fishers.

"We would be very disappointed if this was the case in this instance and if those people concerned were found guilty then we would totally endorse any sanction against them."

Pankhurst said the vast bulk of the industry operated honestly and to very strict regulations.

Inquiries are ongoing.

Any suspicious fishing activity can be reported to MPI via the 0800 4 POACHER line – 0800 47 62 24.

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