Seven people have paid the price for poaching from the Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve in Gisborne.
All of the individuals who were sentenced in the Gisborne District Court this month were caught in a joint operation late last year between the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Department of Conservation (DOC) with assistance from Police.
The individuals stole a total of 39 crayfish and 238 kina from the protected area that covers 2,400 hectares of coastline.
One group of the people sentenced, took 193 kina and 13 crayfish. One person received a $2,000 fine and was ordered to pay $130 court costs. Another received a 1-month prison sentence.
The rest have been sentenced to a combined total of close to 400 hours' community work and ordered to pay court costs totalling close to $400.
Seven more people who were also caught poaching from the reserve around the same time are due to be sentenced later this year.
MPI's chief compliance officer for Poverty Bay, Richard Ratapu, says the volume of marine life that was poached is staggering.
"That's a lot of kina, a lot of crayfish. We're really disappointed that people think it's okay to steal precious kaimoana from a protected area like this. It's never okay. This type of offending affects the ongoing restoration of the marine environment.
"It was pre-meditated offending and often done under the cover of darkness.
"In most instances, the offenders had gang connections. In one incident, a parent who was part of a primary school dive trip informed the gang members that they were poaching from a marine reserve but she was ignored."
Mr Ratapu says he hopes the sentencing outcomes send a clear message.
"This sort of activity won't be tolerated. The majority of people value and enjoy the marine reserve so this offending, which is actually theft, is unacceptable to the community.
"We will continue to work closely with DOC to monitor activity around the reserve to ensure people who act unlawfully will be punished. We take a zero tolerance approach to any sort of offending.
"Often, the public is our eyes and ears in these cases and we're very grateful for that. A word of caution, though: Sometimes it's unsafe to approach people suspected of illegal activity. It's better to record useful information like descriptions of people who look like they're committing an offence, vehicle makes and registration numbers and anything else that could help with identification," says Mr Ratapu.
The marine life that was recovered was returned to the reserve alive for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
MPI's poacher hotline: 0800 4 POACHER, that's 0800 47 62 24.