Fisheries officers carry out major bust on illegal shellfish after public tip off

Fisheries officers have carried out a major swoop on illegal shellfish taking after tip offs from the public.

Almost 3000 cockles and dozens of undersized paua have been returned to the sea as a result.

There have been several incidents in recent days with most involved offenders targeting a single Auckland beach. 

Andre Espinoza, MPI Fisheries Compliance Regional Manager says it's "complete greed". 

Espinoza has been involved in fisheries compliance for 14 years and he's fed up with poachers, saying sometimes people clear out entire ecosystems. 

"They've taken everything they can find - rock oysters, sea snails - the lot."

Just last weekend, he and his team made a major bust - 2216 cockles were taken from Auckland's Eastern Beach where shellfish gathering is banned. 

A man was busted trying to load them into his vehicle. 

"They're essentially stealing from the New Zealand public. These resources out here are for everyone and again Eastern Beach is closed for gathering for good reason."

That incident was followed by two more seizures in as many days by other offenders.

More than 570 illegal cockles were found after one tip off. In a separate case a day later, 133 were found hidden under a large inflatable toy.

Those caught told fisheries officers they were not aware that the beach was closed to shellfish gathering. That's despite there being 16 signs dotted along the foreshore clearly stating that the beach is closed to all shellfish gathering.

As Newshub filmed, next to a picnic table, another illegal dump was discovered. 

"They've just dumped them. These are cockles that haven't been utilised in any way. They're illegally gathered - what a waste," said Espinoza. 

Marine scientist Andrew Jeffs says shellfish filter water and provide a food source for fish.

But they also engineer the beaches we all love. 

Jeffs says the beach is held together by shellfish - and removing them has significant adverse consequences. 

"You destabilize the structure of beaches so they become less resilient to waves and you get more sediment suspended in the water. There's less filtering going on so the water becomes cloudier."

Professor Jeffs would like to see more bans on harvesting in busy areas. 

"Certainly in the Auckland metropolitan area, it's hard to justify harvesting on many of those beaches."

And if you need another reason for not harvesting - here's one. At Eastern Beach it's currently not advised you even swim due to high faecal bacteria from wastewater overflow.

In another separate case, fisheries officers in Mahia in the Hawkes Bay recently checked the haul of a few fishermen and seized 156 undersized paua.

If you become aware of any suspicious fishing activity, call MPI on 0800 4 POACHER or email