A joint Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and NZ Police checkpoint in Taranaki has uncovered a massive illegal haul of pāua, the majority of which were undersized.
MPI fishery officers and police stopped and inspected cars travelling on State Highway 45 near Okato last week to coincide with low spring tides – an event that traditionally sees large numbers of people take excessive amounts of shellfiah, particularly pāua.
MPI spokesman Jason Howat says the south Taranaki coastline is an area of high risk of offending, in part, due to its isolation and vastness.
He says a number of people received warnings and infringements for exceeding the daily limit of pāua and kina and for taking undersized pāua.
"What was staggering was the discovery of 4 people with a total of 736 pāua, 703 of which were undersized. Investigations are continuing into this. A vehicle used in this offending was seized by fishery officers. The people involved will likely face serious fisheries charges," says Mr Howat.
"This was an extremely disappointing discovery particularly given the fact that the Taranaki region has a lower minimum legal size catch limit (85mm) than the rest of the country. This is because the Taranaki pāua are naturally small and never reach the minimum legal size of 125mm that applies to the rest of the country.
"They also mature and breed at a much smaller size. So they are particularly vulnerable from the outset."
Mr Howat says the 2-day checkpoint also resulted in one set net being seized and a number of people being given infringements and fines totalling $1750 for taking undersized and excess pāua as well excess kina.
"These checkpoints are very worthwhile for both MPI and Police. From MPI’s point of view, we have a job to protect the sustainability of our local fisheries resource. Abusing our fisheries and taking in excess of the daily limit for any fish or shellfish is never acceptable.
"On top of that, providing and sustaining a black market for those who are taking illegally, will not be tolerated."
Fishery officers returned all of the shellfish to the sea.
Meanwhile, police breath tested in excess of 500 drivers during the joint operation. As a result, 2 drivers will appear in the New Plymouth District Court for driving with excess breath alcohol.