A Waitaruke man who was ordered to pay $1500 to a theft-hit oyster farmer denies taking the shellfish, despite a Facebook Live video showing him near the farm, accompanied by a post advertising 'oysters fresh off the farm'.

Robert Rika was initially charged with theft over the disappearance of about 10 trays of oysters, around 200 dozen, from Owen Robertson's Whangaroa Harbour farm in January this year. When police dropped the charge due to insufficient evidence, Mr Robertson took him to the Disputes Tribunal.

When the case was heard earlier this month Mr Rika was ordered to pay $750 for the oysters and $750 for Mr Robertson's expenses and inconvenience. Evidence included the Facebook Live video and posts by Mr Rika's son, advertising oysters on the South Auckland Food Facebook page.

However, Mr Rika said he was in Pumanawa Bay that day, where Mr Robertson's farm is located, because he was showing his son around his ancestral home.

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"Yes, I was there, the photo shows so. I was taking my son to see the whole of Whangaroa. He's never been here before. There's no photos showing that I took the oysters," he said.
"This naughtiness has got to stop, accusing me without the full and proper facts."

None of the Facebook posts relating to shellfish sales implicated him, and the two trays of wild oysters he collected were from the western arm of the harbour, nowhere near Mr Robertson's farm.

He also questioned Mr Robertson's ownership of the oysters. The farm was leased, the area was under foreshore and seabed and Treaty claims, and even if Mr Robertson did own the farm he couldn't own the oysters, he said.

"How do you claim title to what Tangaroa gives?" he asked.

Despite that, he wouldn't take shellfish from a farm, and didn't need to.

Mr Rika said he had been given a raw deal by government agencies, and under the 1835 Declaration of Independence the issue should have been resolved according to tikanga. He invited Mr Robertson to join him in resolving the issue on the marae any time.

Responding to Mr Rika's questioning of the oysters' ownership, the tribunal adjudicator said no evidence was presented that Mr Robertson did not have the consents required to operate the farm. He did not own the land or sea where the business operated, and as lessee might not own the structures, but he was the legal owner of the produce from the farm.

Ministry for Primary Industries officials have visited Mr Rika to "educate" him on legal and food safety issues. A ministry spokeswoman said it was aware of the incident, but because it related to farmed oysters it was up to police to investigate rather than the MPI, because farmed oysters were not covered by the Fisheries Act 1996.

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