Buying black market crayfish cost a Christchurch restaurant owner dearly when he appeared for sentencing in Christchurch District Court yesterday (3 September).
Jianwen Li, 49, had earlier pleaded guilty to charges laid by the Ministry for Primary Industries of illegally buying fish to obtain a benefit, failing to keep records of fish he purchased, and obstructing a fisheries officer.
Mr Li was fined $18,000, sentenced to 150 hours community work, and his 2013 Toyota Prado, valued at $80,000, was forfeit to the crown.
An MPI investigation showed Mr Li had purchased 176 crayfish illegally for his business, Southern Asian Restaurant, in several transactions between March and May 2014.
Mr Li paid a black market price of $2510 for the 176 crayfish, when the legitimate market price of $90 per kilogram would have cost $8712. The financial benefit of the black market purchase to Mr Li was $6202.
Mr Li also had 86 kg of pāua. Mr Li produced receipts for the pāua dating back to 2012 in an attempt to legitimise the fish. Using an innovative aging technique to date the pāua, MPI established that it could not be related to receipts Mr Li provided.
Ministry for Primary Industries Southern Investigations Manager John Gibson says people who buy black market seafood pose as much risk to our fisheries as those who do the illegal fishing.
"If there are no willing buyers, there is no black market. If you are buying a few cheap crays, pāua or a bag of fillets, you're encouraging the illegal fishers to take more. It's a vicious cycle, and our fisheries and those who use them legitimately end up losing."
Mr Gibson says MPI was looking at the fish purchasing activities of several Christchurch businesses as part of an operation into black market fishing in Kaikoura last year.
"We suspected that some of the illegally caught Kaikoura crayfish were supplying restaurants in Christchurch, and we certainly found some willing buyers."
Mr Gibson says information from the public is very useful in detecting fisheries offending.
"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."
It is illegal to sell your recreational fishing catch, with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine.