Paua poachers favour Wellington

The Wellington coastline is by far the most plundered for paua, with nearly twice as many poaching convictions as any other area.

There were 434 convictions for taking excess paua and 79 for taking undersize paua from the Wellington area between January 2010 and November 13, figures obtained by The Dominion Post show.

The next hardest hit of the nine areas in the country was Napier, with 219 and 43 respectively, according to the figures, provided by the Primary Industries Ministry under the Official Information Act.

The Napier area was by far the worst for illegal taking of excess or undersize rock lobster, with 262 convictions for undersized rock lobsters over the same period and 46 convictions for excess ones.

There have been 1847 convictions nationally for the illegal taking of undersize or excess paua or rock lobster since January 2010.

The legal limit is 10 paua a person. They must be more than 125mm long.

In the Wellington area, people were regularly caught with 40 or more paua, district compliance manager Mike Green said. About a year ago, four men were stopped at a breath-test checkpoint and police found more than 1100 paua in their car. They had been driving to Wellington from Wairarapa.

The area's rocky coastline and its accessibility would partly explain why it was worst hit, he said.

"I'm not naive enough to think we're catching everyone. I'd dare say there were quite a few getting away with it because we're regularly contacted by people who are disgusted at large piles of paua shells they've located while walking around the beach themselves.

"There's a plentiful supply of paua, or so we're told. It also has something to do with the tides and the food chains around the Wellington area."

Because Wellington had a south, east and west coastline it meant there was usually one coastline with little swell, which tended to be the conditions favoured by poachers, he said.

"We have poaching all over the Wellington area. Often they will poach from somewhere near to where they can park their car. It's only the hardcore ones that really do the long walks."

Most poachers were caught after observation by fishery officers, of which there were 12 in Wellington. "We also get a lot of reports from members of the public who have seen suspicious activity."

Offenders were nearly always male, and Pasifika and Maori were over-represented, Mr Green said.

Prosecutions went ahead for anyone taking 30 or more paua. For fewer than that, instant fines and infringement notices were issued. Warnings were given for minor offences such as taking one or two more than the legal limit, or having a paua slightly under size.

The Dominion Post