East coast man sentenced for black market sales of crayfish valued at nearly $60,000

A Tolaga Bay man has been sentenced to eight months home detention and disqualified from fishing for three years after he sold over half a tonne of illegally caught crayfish on the black market.

Crayfish Source: 1 NEWS

Jason Dewi Taylor, 49, was sentenced in the Rotorua District Court on 15 charges under the Fisheries Act 1996 and amateur fishing regulations on Friday.

In December, he pleaded guilty to charges of illegally taking almost 600 kilograms of fish from the CRA3 fishery area, located on the East Coast of the North Island, over eight months in 2019.

A Ministry for Primary Industries investigation, called Operation Coastie, found Taylor had illegally harvested about 1490 individual rock lobster from Tolaga Bay which were sold in Kawerau, Rotorua and the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

The investigation found evidence that he went to family addresses or met buyers at prearranged locations and sold pre-cooked or frozen rock lobster for between $700 and $1310 per load.

However, when Taylor was confronted by fishery officers at his Tolaga Bay home, where he was found with 161 rock lobster, his explanation was that he had swapped and bartered seafood but had never sold it.

While the cash return on the black market was over $16,300, on the retail domestic market the rock lobster would have been valued at about $59,600. 

MPI acting director of compliance services Steve Ham said the offending had significantly undercut the legitimate market.

"The rules and regulations are there for a reason – to protect the resource," he said.

"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.

He said fishery officers will continue to investigate and prosecute people who "exploit" resources.

During the sentencing hearing, Judge Phillip Cooper admonished the fisherman. 

"You were found to be involved in very serious offending," he said. "The laws you broke are there to protect the fishing resource and yours was a very blatant and irresponsible course of offending."