Members of an East Coast black-market crayfish poaching ring that netted thousands of dollars in illegal sales have today been sentenced to home detention and community work.
The sentences, in the Whakatane District Court, follow a major Fisheries New Zealand investigation that ran from December 2020 to August 2021 into the illegal harvesting of thousands of crayfish from Mahia Peninsula, using falsified customary permits. The crayfish was sold on the black-market throughout Auckland, Kawerau, Tauranga, Gisborne, Wairoa, Mahia, and Napier.
Fisheries New Zealand regional compliance manager Jodie Cole says local iwi and marae leaders had no knowledge or involvement in the offending and are also victims of the deception.
"The blame for this offending lies squarely with the defendants."
The ringleaders, Martin Te Iwingaro Ernest Paul (49) and his daughter Whareake Tamaku Paul (26), both of Kawerau, earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of selling 1,449 crayfish between September 2020 and August 2021 on the black-market for a total of $43,140.
Mr Paul received 9 months’ home detention and Ms Paul received 8 months home detention and 100 hours community work. A vehicle and a number of electronic devices used in the offending were also forfeit.
Mr Cole says the Pauls were key to this illegal operation.
"Martin Paul would provide details of a fake event, the fisher would use those false details to obtain a customary permit claiming the seafood was for a hui or tangi, who the gatherers were and where the events were being held. Yet these so-called events were a work of fiction and the marae or venue contacts had no idea their facilities were being named on permits.
"This was a carefully coordinated and organised black-market operation. Whareake Paul was considered the accountant and took charge of managing orders and payments into family accounts. They were on-selling the crayfish for prices ranging from $25 to $60, depending on the size. The Pauls were the ringleaders of this scheme.
"We became aware of these sales after discovering Whareake Paul was selling raffle tickets for a large seafood prize via a Facebook group. We launched an investigation and found evidence of a major crayfish poaching operation. Neither the Pauls nor the fisher had quota to take crayfish from Mahia and they were motivated solely by financial gain," Mr Cole says.
The Pauls sold nearly 1,500 crayfish, with most of the sales were to other members of the syndicate being sentenced today in Whakatane District Court. The other members did not make a profit from the offending but were involved in either the collection of or buying and on-selling of the illegally harvested crayfish to whanau and friends.
They include Kawerau man Dean Hemi Karepa (29), who was ordered to do 180 hours community work. Mr Karepa was the "courier" and made 23 return trips to Wairoa to collect crayfish.
Te Teko woman Terri Aroha Wetini (44) was ordered to do 100 hours community work for buying about 571 crayfish from one of the Pauls. She on-sold about 417 of these crayfish for $11,695 – the commercial value is $26,688.
Former Eastern Bay of Plenty woman Urukapuarangi Benita Waretini (47), who now lives in Australia, has been fined $3,000. She bought about 200 crayfish for $6,000 which had a commercial value of $12,800. She would on sell these crayfish at $30 each to family and friends
Kawerau woman Wowi Hineahoana Ioane (42) was ordered to do 40 hours community work for selling 60 crayfish at $30 each to friends which she gained through her sister-in-law Urukapuarangi Benita Waretini’s contact with the Pauls. The commercial value was $3,840.
Whakatane woman Ebony Mihi Paul (25), earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of possessing 53 poached crayfish of which she sold 23, was ordered to do 60 hours community work and her vehicle used to possess the crayfish was forfeit.
Kawerau woman Barbara Anne Ririnui (53) was ordered to do 80 hours community work for being in possession of 160 crayfish which were sold for about $4,800 and had a commercial value of $10,240.
Hastings man Conrad Jensen Whakangaroa Rarere (33) who appeared in the Napier District Court yesterday was fined $1,500 for possessing 45 crayfish for $675 that were harvested illegally. They had a commercial price of about $2,880.
And Kawerau woman Stacey Maria Arohanui Savage (51) was ordered to do 70 hours community work for possession of 142 crayfish that were harvested illegally. She paid around $3,000 for 100 crayfish and deposited $1,260 to members of the syndicate for 42 crayfish. The commercial price estimate would be over $9,000.
Meanwhile, there are a number other people alleged to be involved in facilitating the black-market poaching operation who are still to appear before the court.
"These crayfish were being sold at an extremely low price. If you’re offered seafood at a price that appears too good to be true – assume it was probably harvested illegally. We’d advise not to buy it, and to let us know," Jodie Cole says.
Fisheries New Zealand encourages fishing industry operators and non-commercial fishers to report any suspected illegal activity through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ 0800 4 POACHER line (0800 47 62 24).