A Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) operation that was recently concluded with the assistance of police, has resulted in a group of Wellington divers facing charges for gathering excess pāua and offering to sell it on the black market.
The operation targeted a group of people who had been diving in isolated areas around Wellington's south coast that are mainly accessible only by way of specifically equipped 4x4 vehicles.
MPI team manager (fisheries) for the eastern and lower North Island, Mike Green, says the operation concluded after MPI fishery officers went to an area on the capital's south coast to inspect the activities of 2 divers.
He says that during the inspection, it was discovered the pair were in possession of more than 600 pāua - 30 times the daily limit for 2 people. As a result, 2 vehicles and dive gear that were used in the alleged offending were seized.
"Following this, 4 fisheries search warrants were conducted at the addresses of the 2 divers as well as another 2 people identified earlier in our inquiry.
"As a result, another 4x4 vehicle and more dive gear were seized."
Four men will now likely face charges under the Fisheries Act – charges that attract a maximum penalty of a $250,000 fine and/or 5 years imprisonment.
Mike Green says further search warrants were carried out this week at properties identified as the homes of people who were allegedly purchasing the seafood from the divers.
"These people will also likely face serious fisheries charges. Abusing our fisheries and taking in excess of the daily limit for any fish or shellfish is bad enough. This sort of offending has a huge impact on the sustainability of the fishery and creates a localised depletion that impacts everyone.
"Providing and sustaining a black market for those who are taking illegally is equally as bad. We will come down hard on everyone involved and we will seize, when applicable, all the gear, equipment, and vehicles used in the commission of an offence."