Oamaru couple sentenced for illegally selling poached pāua on Facebook

  • 11/04/2024

Two people in north Otago have been found illegally selling poached pāua on Facebook. 

Sheryl Maafu, 49, and Niuila Maafu, 59, were sentenced in the Oamaru District Court on Wednesday charged with illegally selling pāua under the Fisheries Act, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said on Thursday. 

The pair were ordered to do 360 hours community work - 200 for Sheryl and 160 for Niuila - and were placed on 12 months supervision for online sales of poached pāua. 

A 2019 Ford Ranger and a 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe, along with a range of diving gear, was also forfeited to the Crown. 

It comes after an investigation found the Maafu's sold pāua meals through a Facebook site and obtained customary permits for fictitious birthday events to gather pāua. 

In May 2023, a fishery officer became aware of a package being couriered from Oamaru that contained pāua, MPI said. The package was intercepted and found to contain about 12kgs of minced pāua.  

Fisheries NZ was also tipped off about an online site owned by Sheryl Maafu called 'Always Kingdom Fundraiser' which was advertising meals for sale, including creamed pāua for $10 a meal. 

A Fisheries NZ investigation was launched, which included Sheryl's bank accounts being examined and search warrants executed at two premises in Kakanui and Oamaru in June 2023. 

At the Kakanui building, investigators found 139 shucked pāua of which 129 were less than the legal size, MPI said. At the Oamaru property they found 513 pāua shells of which 442 were less than the legal size. 

Fishery Officers formally interviewed both defendants in July 2023 about poaching pāua. 

"They admitted illegally selling recreationally gathered pāua through online Facebook sales which they were doing by either cash or bank deposits," Fisheries NZ district team leader for compliance Ian Henderson said. 

"Sheryl Maafu, who organised the customary authorisations, told us she knew what she was doing… It's illegal to sell recreationally caught seafood and the Maafu's knew this. 

"They also broke the trust of a tangata tiaki by gaining customary permits for various birthday events that never happened - yet they gathered and kept the pāua." 

In total, investigators found 621 ordinary black foot pāua shells. Based on the minimum shellfish size, it had a commercial retail value of $8281. 

Nearly 23kgs of pāua - with a commercial retail value of $3827 - was also seized from the Maafu's. 

"When we find evidence of illegal fishing, we will hold people to account," Henderson said. 

Anyone who suspects illegal fishing activity is encouraged to contact MPI on 0800 4 POACHER (0800 47 62 24).