A trout poacher has been jailed for a year while his co-offender is now on the run - in what's been called the most serious poaching case to come before the courts in 10 years.
In the Rotorua District Court today, Thomas Tawha, 41, of Kawerau was jailed for 12 months for poaching as many as 60 spawning trout from a stream near Lake Rotoiti last June and July.
The maximum penalty is two years imprisonment and/or a $100,000 fine.
Eastern Fish & Game officer Anthony van Dorp told the Rotorua Daily Post this was the first case he knew of where a poacher had been sentenced to a jail term.
Tawha's co-offender David Pake Leef, 35, of Te Teko failed to appear in court and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Judge James Weir said it was the most serious case of its kind in the last decade in New Zealand.
When Tawha and Leef first appeared last year they refused to acknowledge the court's jurisdiction and guilty pleas were entered on their behalf. They were found guilty at a hearing in November.
Yesterday, Judge Weir ordered a man out of court who claimed he was Leef's 'representative' and demanded the judge stand down because his position wasn't recognised under the Maori Land Act.
Leef's mother shouted at Judge Weir, saying her son's conviction was being appealed in the High Court.
At the judge's direction she too was escorted out by police.
The lawyer for Eastern Fish and Game, Mike Bodie, said the men had carried out a "planned pillaging of the stream".
He said Tawha's sentencing would be a legal benchmark as no one had been sentenced under a new act that doubled penalties for poaching.
"This case is the most serious to come before the court in at least a decade,"Mr Bodie said.
He said the effect the poaching had on the progeny of the trout taken was incalculable.
Tawha's lawyer, Moana Dorset, said her client had been surprised to learn the impact his offending had on the spawning ground and recognised the court must consider imprisonment.
Judge Weir referred to a letter to the court from a respected Ngati Pikiao kaumatua who'd pointed out Tawha and Leef were not members of the local iwi.
The kaumatua wrote it was offensive and disrespectful for the men to claim they had the customary right to take the trout, he said.
The judge noted Tawha had 38 previous dishonesty-related convictions and had been jailed for violent offending.
Eastern Fish & Game region manager Andy Garrick said the sentence reflected the seriousness of the offending.
"The sentences the judge imposed today serves as a very stern warning to others that poaching trout is just not worth it," he said.
- Additional reporting Daniel O'Mahony