Buyer beware: Illegal seafood trade sparks public warning from Fisheries officials

Fisheries Officers have issued a warning about illegal poaching of seafood saying if you buy seafood from unreputable sources you could end up facing charges.

They say there's always a surge in illegal sales of high-value species - like crayfish and paua - over summer.

Most recreational fishers play by the rule book. But all too often, fisheries investigators discover seafood being sold online illegally.

"Facebook Marketplace and other social media. It ramps up quite significantly this time of year," Fisheries NZ North Harbour District team leader Glen Blackwell said.

Coupled with good fishing conditions this summer, there's another factor that could be contributing to illegal behaviour.

"I just think times are tough for a lot of people and they're trying to make a dollar, you know," senior fisheries officer Matt Parry said.

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Blackwell said high-value underwater species can end up being used as currency in the underworld.

"It's pretty well known that within the underworld particularly, it's currency in the drug market. There's a bit of trading that goes on in the high-value species."

In May last year, investigators busted a huge poaching ring.

These are evidential photos from the case where almost 5000 crayfish were stolen from around Mahia Peninsula and sold cheap on Facebook to people from Auckland to Napier.

The commercial value of the stolen crays was almost $300,000.

In that case, the defendants would make up fake events, like hui or tangi which never existed, and then used those details to gain unapproved customary permits.

After the bust, one buyer told the seller on Facebook: "I thought me purchasing the crayfish from you was above board as you told me you had bought a quota to sell crayfish. Had I known the crayfish was illegal I wouldn't have bought any."

Photos of the poached crayfish.
Photos of the poached crayfish. Photo credit: Supplied

"It's not only the people selling the product that are breaking the law, it's also those people buying it," warned Fisheries NZ compliance director Steve Ham.

"People will try and profit from recreationally caught seafood and now is the time of year when people are trying to sell it."

One whole crayfish will retail for around $65 to $90, depending on the size. So a cray for $30 should ring alarm bells.

"The old adage, if it's too good to be true, it generally is," Ham said.

And stick to reputable sellers only, if you want to avoid becoming entangled in the next illegal fishing investigation.