Trout poaching case polarises NZers

Trout poaching case polarises NZers

A recent case of trout poaching has polarised opinion on social media and exposed how big the cultural divide still is in New Zealand.

David Leef and his cousin, Thomas Tawha, were jailed for taking the fish from a spawning ground near Rotorua.

But the cousins told The Hui they were simply feeding their families. Now the online backlash has left Fish and Game staff concerned for their safety.

In 2013 the men set off to collect kai, but they were caught taking as many as 60 trout from a spawning stream.

Last week Leef was sentenced to four months in jail, but his sister says he was only feeding his family.

Leef lives in a broken-down bus on the front lawn of his mother's home, caring for his eight children.

His sister says they do not recognise the New Zealand justice system.

Tawha was also sentenced, but to 12 months in prison for poaching. He's now served his time and insists they were given permission by the local kaumatua.

"Me and David had got three kaumatua-signed papers from the kaumatua to go out and gather kai. The kaumatua that had signed the paper to us, [and it] was legal," he says.

Fish and Game welcomed the poaching sentence saying: "Poaching is often associated with the criminal underworld and Fish and Game staff have to wear stab-proof vests when patrolling some streams, lakes and rivers. The sentence imposed on the offenders reflects the seriousness of the crime and their previous convictions."

The cousins' story sparked a social media frenzy, their case compared with the group of Northland teenagers given home detention for a spate of burglaries.

Tawha insists he's done nothing wrong.

"I ain't going to apologise to no government, no courthouse on what I did."

Leef has just begun his time in prison, and while he's apologised, many on Facebook agree with him.