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Members of black-market crayfish poaching ring sentenced

3 min read
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The poaching ring netted thousands of dollars in illegal sales. Photo: Jake Osborne | Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A group involved in the black-market poaching of crayfish have been sentenced to home detention and community work by the Whakatane District Court.

Members of the poaching ring, which netted thousands of dollars in illegal sales, were sentenced following a a major Fisheries New Zealand investigation that ran from December 2020 to August 2021.

The members of the East Coast poaching ring had been using falsified customary permits to illegally harvest thousands of crayfish from Mahia Peninsula, which were then sold on the black market throughout Auckland, Kawerau, Tauranga, Gisborne, Wairoa, Mahia, and Napier.

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 1449 crayfish between September 2020 and August 2021 on the black market for a total of $43,140.

Mr Paul received nine months of home detention and Ms Paul received eight months of home detention and 100 hours of community work. Additionally, the vehicle and a number of electronic devices used in the offending were also forfeited.

Fisheries New Zealand regional compliance manager Jodie Cole said the father-daughter duo 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.”

Fisheries NZ became aware of these illegal sales when they discovered Whareake Paul selling raffle tickets for a large seafood prize via a Facebook group. An investigation was launched and it was found that a major crayfish poaching operation was being undertaken. Without the required quota to take crayfish from Mahia, their motivation was solely financial gain.

The Pauls sold nearly 1500 crayfish, with most of the sales being made to other members of the syndicate who were also sentenced in Whakatane District Court. While the other members did not make a profit from the offending, they were involved in either collecting or buying and on-selling of the illegally harvested crayfish to whanau and friends.

Among them is Kawerau man Dean Hemi Karepa (29), who was ordered to do 180 hours of community work; Te Teko woman Terri Aroha Wetini (44), who was ordered to do 100 hours community work; former Eastern Bay of Plenty woman Urukapuarangi Benita Waretini (47), who now lives in Australia, who was fined $3000; Kawerau woman Wowi Hineahoana Ioane (42), who was ordered to do 40 hours community work; Whakatane woman Ebony Mihi Paul (25), who earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of possessing 53 poached crayfish of which she sold 23 and was ordered to do 60 hours community work (her vehicle used to possess the crayfish was forfeited); Kawerau woman Barbara Anne Ririnui (53), who was ordered to do 80 hours community work for being in possession of 160 crayfish; Hastings man Conrad Jensen Whakangaroa Rarere (33), who appeared in the Napier District Court and was fined $1500; and Kawerau woman Stacey Maria Arohanui Savage (51), who was ordered to do 70 hours community.

Cole said there are a number of 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,” Cole said.

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