50 MPI officers swoop on rock lobster black market
Fifty Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) compliance officers wrapped up an undercover operation today that targeted recreational fishers catching and selling rock lobster (crayfish) in the South Island.
The operation was focused on activities in the Kaikoura area but also included the Christchurch and Marlborough/Nelson areas.
It is illegal to sell your recreational fishing catch with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine.
Forty three people will be interviewed by compliance officers, many of these are likely to face serious Fisheries Act charges, including a food wholesaler and a restaurant in Christchurch.
Ten cars, five boats and a tractor, all connected with black market catch and sales, have been seized as part of the operation, which involved the execution of 32 search warrants.
MPI has identified a number of other residents who may be involved in black market activity and will be monitored closely in the future.
“It is MPI’s role to ensure people are fishing by the rules and to protect New Zealand’s fisheries for future generations. As this operation would indicate, it is something we take very seriously,” says MPI Director-General Martyn Dunne.
An MPI Special Duties Officer (under cover) bought 1200 cooked rock lobster from recreational fishers in an operation run over approximately 12 months. The undercover officer was managed nationally from Wellington, without the knowledge of local Compliance Officers.
MPI Director Compliance Dean Baigent says the ease in which someone could purchase 1200 rock lobster points to a well established black market.
Mr Baigent says intelligence gathered by MPI suggests there has been a thriving black market in recreationally caught rock lobster in the town for some time.
“Recreational fishers have been fishing in a pseudo-commercial way and selling their catch to supply a large black market including locals, tourists, hotels and restaurants and businesses further afield.”
“For some permanent residents, selling their recreational catch and taking extra is a long practised and normalised behaviour. The same goes for people who like to buy a few cheap crays or a bag of fillets at the pub or out of the boot of a car.”
“Buying and selling black market fish is illegal and we’re reminding people about that today.”
Mr Baigent says a black market for rock lobster undermines the sustainability of the fishery and puts it at risk for genuine fishers – whether they are customary, commercial or recreational.
He says many of those involved are long term recidivist poachers known as ‘six-a-dayers’.
“These poachers take their recreational limit of six a day, every day they can, and sell it.
“They increase their catch by taking extra passengers and attributing another six rock lobster to each passenger, or going out more than once a day and taking the daily recreational limit every time.
Mr Baigent says there is no black market if people aren’t buying.
“We rely on the public to help protect their fisheries. I encourage people to report any suspicious fishing, buying or selling to 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224). All calls are confidential.
- The retail price for rock lobster is approximately $90 per kilogram which, dependant on size would be two legal size rock lobster.
- Recreational black marketers are selling whole cooked rock lobster for between $10 and $15 each.
- For recreational fishers there is a limit of six rock lobster, per person, per day.
- Only those physically involved in taking rock lobster are entitled to take up to the daily limit.
- There is also a limit of three rock lobster pots per person, with a maximum of six pots per boat.
- It is illegal to sell or buy someone’s recreational catch.
For further information, or pictures of some of the illegally sold rock lobster contact the MPI Media phone listed above.