Ten members of an East Coast black market crayfish poaching ring were sentenced yesterday after the ring netted tens of thousands of dollars in illegal sales.
In a statement, Fisheries New Zealand said it ran a major investigation from December 2020 to August 2021 into the illegal harvesting of thousands of crayfish from Mahia Peninsula using falsified customary permits.
The crayfish was then sold on the black market throughout Auckland, Kawerau, Tauranga, Gisborne, Wairoa, Mahia and Napier.
Fisheries NZ regional compliance manager Jodie Cole said local iwi and marae leaders were victims of deception, had no knowledge or involvement in the offending, and that the blame "lies squarely with the defendants".
Ringleaders Martin Te Iwingaro Ernest Paul, 49, and his daughter Whareake Tamaku Paul, 26, both from Kawerau, were among those sentenced in the Whakatane District Court.
Both pleaded guilty to a charge of selling 1449 crayfish between September 2020 and August 2021 on the black market, taking in a total of $43,140.
Martin Paul received nine months' home detention, while his daughter was given eight months' home detention and 100 hours of community work.
Cole said the Pauls were key to the illegal operation, adding Martin Paul would provide fake details of an event to a fisher, who would use them to obtain a customary permit for a hui or tangi.
"[He would say] who the gatherers were and where the events were being held. Yet these so-called events were a work of fiction and the marae or venue contacts had no idea their facilities were being named on permits," Cole said.
"Whareake Paul was considered the accountant and took charge of managing orders and payments into family accounts. They were on-selling the crayfish for prices ranging from $25 to $60, depending on the size.
"We became aware of these sales after discovering Whareake Paul was selling raffle tickets for a large seafood prize via a Facebook group. We launched an investigation and found evidence of a major crayfish poaching operation.
"Neither the Pauls nor the fisher had quota to take crayfish from Mahia and they were motivated solely by financial gain."
Fisheries NZ said the other eight sentenced members did not turn a profit from the offending, but had involvement in either the collection, buying or on-selling of illegally harvested crayfish to whānau and friends.
It said a number of others allegedly involved in the operation are still to appear before the court, in the meantime warning the public of low-price crayfish that appears too good to be true.
"Assume it [low-price crayfish] was probably harvested illegally. We'd advise not to buy it, and to let us know," Cole said.