A Tolaga Bay man who supplied and sold over half a tonne of rock lobster on the black market in the Bay of Plenty area has been sentenced to 8 months home detention and disqualified from fishing for 3 years.
On Friday (5 February) Jason Dewi Taylor, 49, was sentenced in the Rotorua District Court on 15 charges under the Fisheries Act 1996 and amateur fishing regulations, relating to illegally taking and selling an estimated 596 kilograms of fish from the CRA3 fishery area, located on the East Coast of the North Island. He pleaded guilty to the charges in December 2020.
Mr Taylor's offending over an 8-month period during 2019 was discovered as a result of a Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) investigation called "Operation Coastie". It found Mr Taylor had illegally harvested about 1490 individual rock lobster from Tolaga Bay which were sold in Kawerau, Rotorua, and the Eastern Bay of Plenty. While the cash return on the black-market was over $16,300 – on the retail domestic market, this rock lobster would have been valued at about $59,600. During sentencing Judge Phillip Cooper told Mr Taylor that "Operation Coastie" was put into effect to bring those responsible to justice.
"You were found to be involved in very serious offending. The laws you broke are there to protect the fishing resource and yours was a very blatant and irresponsible course of offending," Judge Cooper said.
MPI acting director of compliance services Steve Ham says Mr Taylor's offending has significantly undercut the legitimate market.
"The rules and regulations are there for a reason – to protect the resource. Most fishers do the right thing and follow the law. This was an example of total disregard for the rules and intentional stealing of valuable kaimoana from all people who live in this coastal area. MPI fishery officers will continue to investigate and bring before the courts people such as Mr Taylor who profit through exploiting the resource," he says.
Mr Ham says the hard and determined work by fishery officers to bring this case before the court should send a strong message.
"Let this be a warning to other people actively involved in similar illegal operations. Fishery officers have a range of tools available to them to investigate suspicious activities and meet our objectives – to protect the fishing resource and ensure it is sustainable for generations to come," Mr Ham says.
During "Operation Coastie" fishery officers found evidence that between February and October 2019, Mr Taylor conducted sales of rock lobster at family addresses in Kawerau and Rotorua or he would meet with buyers at prearranged locations. The rock lobster was usually sold pre-cooked and frozen for between $700 and $1310 per load. When Mr Taylor was confronted by fishery officers at his Tolaga Bay home, where it was discovered he was in possession of 161 rock lobster, his explanation was that he had swapped and bartered seafood but had never sold it. He also stated that the term "liveys" referred to in evidential text messages were for the sale of live sheep, and the term "baiting" referred to the baiting of possum traps.
The CRA3 Rock lobster fishery stretches from East Cape lighthouse to the Wairoa River. The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for this area is set at 351 tonnes. This includes a 20-tonne allowance for customary fishing and a 20-tonne allowance for recreational fishing.
"Protecting fishing resources such as CRA 3 is critical. MPI will continue to investigate and hold people accountable to stop the devastating effect criminal behaviour is having on the resource," says Mr Ham.
If you become aware of any suspicious fishing activity, call us on 0800 4 POACHER or email [email protected]