Authorities have uncovered an illegal crayfish ring following a covert operation targeting "recreational black marketers" based mainly in Kaikoura.
The 12-month Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) operation, which involved 50 compliance officers, wrapped up yesterday.
MPI targeted recreational fishers catching and selling rock lobster, also known as crayfish, which is illegal and punishable by up to five years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine.
The operation mostly focused on activities in the Kaikoura area, but also included Marlborough, Nelson and Christchurch. Ten cars, five boats and a tractor were seized.
MPI said many of the 43 people caught during so-called Op 15 were likely to face serious charges under the Fisheries Act of 1996. They included a restaurant in Christchurch and a food wholesaler.
MPI director-general Martyn Dunne said its job was to protect New Zealand's fisheries for future generations.
"As this operation would indicate ... it is something we take very seriously," he said.
An undercover compliance officer bought 1200 cooked crayfish from recreational fishers during the 12-month operation.
MPI director compliance Dean Baigent said this suggested there had been a "thriving" black market in Kaikoura for some time.
"Recreational fishers have been fishing in a pseudo-commercial way and selling their catch to supply a large black market including locals, tourists, hotels and restaurants and businesses further afield," he said.
The retail price for rock lobster was about $90 per kilogram, which was usually about two rock lobster of legal size. The recreational black marketers MPI caught were selling whole cooked rock lobster for between $10 and $15 each.
- The Marlborough Express
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