Commercial skipper in black-market chain sentenced

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MPI applauds the hefty sentence handed out last week to a commercial fishing skipper operating out of Tauranga for his part in a black-market fishing operation.

On 14 November at Tauranga District Court, Wayne Terrence Howell was sentenced to 12 months home detention plus 200 hours of community service. Mr Howell was convicted of serious charges under the Fisheries Act 1996 relating to making false statements in fishing returns for a benefit.

The court also ordered forfeiture of the Newfish II 4363 – the Tauranga-based commercial trawler being used by Howell at the time of the offences in 2011.

In delivering his statement, Judge Ingram referred to recent substantial publicity regarding fish stocks that has led the authorities to consider altering catch limits.

The Judge said that Howell’s efforts have contributed to a situation where the community has to take less than nine fish (snapper) because of people who take fish for (illegal) profit.

The Judge also said that he wanted to send a strong message that the community is not prepared to condone the pillage of public stocks for private gain.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) had been covertly monitoring the Newfish II 4363 activities for a two month period, codenamed Operation Waterfowl, says Brendon Mikkelsen, Waikato/Bay of Plenty Compliance Manager.

MPI estimates 13 tonnes of catch, (primarily snapper) had been disposed of on the black-market to outlets at Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland.

Operation Waterfowl detected offenders in every link of the black-market chain: commercial fisher, truck drivers, first receiver, onto second receivers of the illegal fish, including fish shops and takeaway businesses.

Wayne Terrence Howell joins other convicted Operation Waterfowl defendants, including Western Bay Seafood’s Limited, Hira Cyril Noble, Jason Lionel Abbott, Lay Queen Lim and Tuan Tran. One remaining defendant is currently before the Tauranga District Court.

The purpose of the Fisheries Act 1996 is to provide for the utilisation of fisheries resources while ensuring sustainability.

Mr Mikkelsen says it is in interest of the global fishing community that the New Zealand Quota Management System (QMS) should work effectively and be shown to do so –both through the maintenance of fish stocks and through the detection and punishment of offenders such as these people.

The actions of these offenders has threatened the integrity of the QMS. It has also given them an unfair commercial advantage over law-abiding operators and threatened fish stocks such as the snapper fishery in the Bay of Plenty. And they have threatened to sabotage the best tool yet devised to enable New Zealand and the global community to protect and enhance fish stocks,” he says.

“New Zealand’s QMS relies on the accurate and timely reporting of all fish that is commercially caught, landed and sold.”

“Deliberate under-declaring of fish landed and disposed of on the black-market amounts to stealing from all sectors of the fishing community”.

“MPI will continue to utilise all compliance tools and resources to ensure this type of criminal offending does not go undetected to ensure the future sustainability of the fishery.” 

Mr Mikkelsen encourages fishing industry operators and non-commercial fishers to report any suspected illegal activity through the Ministry’s 0800 4 Poacher number (0800 4 76224).

“All calls are treated in the strictest confidence and the information we receive helps stamp out any illegal fishing and helps ensure we have a sustainable fishery for future generations.”

Photo of the trawler New Fish II 4363 is available on request.

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