Putting PAID to paua poaching
The Ministry of Fisheries today announced the culmination of one of the longest and most comprehensive paua poaching operations in New Zealand’s history.
Operation PAID, standing for Paua and Illegal Divers, a two-year operation in Wellington and elsewhere, netted a total of 53 defendants who faced 321 charges. Most of the defendants have now been sentenced.
Twenty-eight received prison sentences ranging from seven months to three years two months, and 23 community-based sentences from 70 hours’ community service to seven months’ home detention and 200 hours’ community service.
Operation PAID was a year-long covert operation targeting the organised poaching, sale and distribution of paua from the Wellington coastline. In May 2008, 200 Fishery Officers and Police undertook simultaneous enforcement action in Auckland, Wellington, Opotiki and Hastings, the climax of an operation that had started six months earlier.
Andrew Coleman, Ministry of Fisheries Deputy Chief Executive Field Operations, said the Ministry was very pleased with the results of Operation PAID. “It’s been a long haul but a rewarding one,” Mr Coleman said. “Thank you to all Ministry staff involved over such an extended period.”
Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Phil Heatley also paid tribute to the teamwork that was necessary to deliver such a comprehensive outcome.
“Unravelling sophisticated criminal enterprise like this takes exceptional organisation and persistence,” Mr Heatley said. “The Ministry demonstrated both these things. The Government totally supports its efforts to stop the criminals in their tracks. Fish thieves must be nailed,” he said.
One of the Operation PAID defendants, Thin Thi Vu, took her technical defence all the way to the Supreme Court, where she lost. While the appeal process was in train, the Ministry kept tabs on similar cases.
Mr Coleman said there was now no doubt that the Ministry was able to pursue fisheries criminals with the full force of the law behind it.
“We have a win-win situation – for the Ministry and for the public,” Mr Coleman said. “We’ve finally put PAID to bed, and we’re able to keep using the full range of compliance tools available to us to protect our fisheries from thieves like these.”
Operation PAID will feature in the next series of Coastwatch on TV ONE, with the first episode scheduled for 7.30 pm on Monday 11 April.
The completion of Operation PAID comes at the same time as the Ministry’s public summer awareness programme, “4 Million Guardians”, is coming towards a successful conclusion.
Andrew Coleman said that while paua poaching remains a problem, he was impressed with the vigilance responsible fishers had shown over the summer. “We had record numbers of calls to the 0800 4 POACHER line, some of which led directly to apprehensions,” he said.
Members of the public are reminded to call 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224) in confidence if they see anything illegal or suspicious in our fisheries.
He kaitiaki t ä tou katoa
Angus McLeod, Acting Team Leader External Communications, (04) 819 4217 or 0274 818 111
Paua poaching penalties
Maximum penalties under the Fisheries Act 1996 are $250,000 or five years’ imprisonment. Vehicles, boats and gear used in committing offences can also be forfeit to the Crown.
The largest sentence for paua poaching is three years two months’ imprisonment. It related to Operation PAID. This sentence was given to the purchaser of black market paua on five occasions in early 2008 from an undercover Fisheries Officer. The person was charged with five charges under section 233(1) of the Fisheries Act and was sentenced in the Manukau District Court in March 2010.
The most significant fine for paua poaching is $12,000. This sentence, which did not relate to Operation PAID, was given at the Whanganui District Court in May 2010 to an individual who had possessed and procured black market paua on four occasions.