Fisheries officers crack down on illegal seafood trade in Hawke's Bay

Fisheries officers have swooped on commercial fishing operations and more than 20 private dwellings in both Hawke's Bay and Māhia in a major fisheries sting to shut down the illegal trading of pāua and crayfish on the black market.

Fisheries officers are searching for evidence as part of Operation River, which has been a year in the making to catch illegal black market traders.

Dean Baigent says, “It is significant for us to have to concentrate a number of fisheries officers around the country to terminate it because there is about 30 people that we've picked up who have been illegally selling or involved in this black market of pāua and rock lobster.”

Over the next few days, Māori customary permits will be scrutinised for any illegal misuse of the permits.  Permits that cannot be used for financial gain.

Ngahiwi Tomona says, “As the iwi, we don't see any of those customary permits, but we do support those hapū that use their permits for the right purposes to collect food for Māori occasions.  But if they're being misused, then they are trampling on our tikanga and mana as Māori.”

MPI officers have also interviewed 31 other people as part of their investigation uncovering illegal trading of almost two tonnes of pāua and 600 crayfish.

Baigent says, “The Black Market goes in peaks and troughs and we feel over the last 10 years we've really hammered it and bought it to an acceptable level.  But there are little pockets that spring up and seek the opportunity to make money illegally.”

This is the second major fisheries sting to be conducted in the area within a year, as officers have been gathering intel on the black market fishing and trading in Hawke's Bay since March last year.