Hefty fine handed down for black market snapper trading

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Media contact: James Sygrove

An Auckland man was yesterday convicted and sentenced in the Manukau District Court on seven charges relating to section 232(2) of the Fisheries Act 1996.

Tuan Tran was convicted of possessing fish that had not been reported in accordance with the Act and fined $35,000 with an additional $7000 in costs.

Mr Tran is a dealer in fish, who buys and then on-sells fish. Over the period from 20 September to 10 November 2011 Tran unlawfully purchased 338 bins of fish from a person who was not a licensed fish receiver.

Tran then sold the fish to the public in his shop Pacific Fresh Fish II, in Otahuhu. None of the fish was ever reported by the commercial fisher that caught it. The total amount of snapper believed to have been purchased by Mr Tran is 8,640 kilograms, which he bought at $6 a kilo, compared to the legitimate market prices at the time which were as high as $9.89 per kilo.

Mr Tran was the latest defendant to appear in court as part of a ring that was illegally purchasing unrecorded fish, mainly snapper all taken from the Bay of Plenty, from a Tauranga based fishing vessel, New Fish II. The black market ring was uncovered through a covert MPI investigation codenamed Operation Waterfowl.

This operation has detected offenders in every link of the black market chain; from the commercial fisher, to those transporting the illegal fish and onto the dealers in fish, including fish shops and fish and chip takeaway shops spanning from Tauranga, Hamilton and on to Auckland. A number of people have already been sentenced for their involvement in the ring and several are awaiting trial.

Waikato/Bay of Plenty District Compliance Manager Brendon Mikkelsen is pleased to see the courts sending yet another strong message to people that choose to disregard the rules and put our fisheries at risk.

“This sentencing should serve as a warning to any other dealer in the fish business that may be purchasing fish on the black-market. Offending of this type has the potential to impact on the future sustainability of our inshore fish stocks and we will continue to utilise all our resources to ensure this type of criminal activity does not go unpunished.”

Mr Mikkelsen also paid tribute to the MPI officers involved in executing Operation Waterfowl. “Our guys worked tirelessly on this operation, and another result like this speaks volumes for their hard work and professionalism.”

The public are reminded that fish can only be purchased from a licensed fish receiver, or in small quantities from a commercial fisher in a wharf sale. Purchasing illegal fish is a serious offence with fines of up to $250,000 and the seizure of property used in the commission of the offence.

Mr Mikkelsen says members of the public who see any unlawful activity (including suspected poaching and/or offering seafood for sale on the black-market) are urged to phone the Ministry’s freephone hotline: 0800 4 POACHER (0800 4 76224). All calls will be treated strictly as in confidence.

You can also take advantage of the free mobile services. Text ‘app’ to 9889 to download the New Zealand fishing rules smartphone app. Or text the name of the species you are fishing for (e.g. crayfish, paua) to 9889 and you’ll receive the size and limit number by return text. Texts are free.

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