by Jim Flack
On 27 November at Tauranga District Court, Joung Oh Lee, a.k.a James Lee was convicted of serious charges under the Fisheries Act 1996 relating to knowingly selling fish to obtain a benefit.
Ministry for Primary Industries - New Zealand
Yesterday (16 December) at Tauranga District Court, Mr Lee was sentenced to two and a half years jail.
In delivering his statement, Judge Harding found Mr Lee was the ring leader, had no remorse and was operating a business while bankrupt.
The court previously ordered forfeiture of the Newfish II 4363 – the Tauranga-based commercial trawler being used by associated skipper Wayne Terrance Howell (convicted 18 October 2013) at the time of the offences in 2011.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) had been covertly monitoring the Newfish II 4363 activities for a two month period, codenamed Operation Waterfowl, says Brendon Mikkelsen, Waikato/Bay of Plenty Compliance Manager.
MPI estimates 13 tonnes of catch, primarily snapper, had been disposed of on the black-market to outlets at Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland.
Operation Waterfowl detected offenders in every link of the black-market chain: commercial fisher, truck drivers, first receiver, onto second receivers of the illegal fish, including fish shops and takeaway businesses.
Joung Oh Lee joins other convicted Operation Waterfowl defendants, including Wayne Terrence Howell, Western Bay Seafoods Limited, Hira Cyril Noble, Jason Lionel Abbott, Lay Queen Lim and Tuan Tran.
The purpose of the Fisheries Act 1996 is to provide for the use of fisheries resources while ensuring sustainability.
Mr Mikkelsen applauds the jail sentence, which he says is a real deterrent for anyone considering offending on a commercial scale.
'We’re not talking about a couple bins of fish going astray here. This was 13 tonnes of one of New Zealand’s prime table fish essentially being stolen from the rest of the fishing community.
'The actions of these offenders have threatened the integrity of the Quota Management System (QMS).'
It has also given them an unfair commercial advantage over law-abiding operators and threatened the snapper fishery in the Bay of Plenty.
'The QMS relies on the accurate and timely reporting of all fish that is commercially caught, landed and sold.'
'Deliberate under-declaring of fish landed and disposed of on the black-market amounts to stealing from all sectors of the fishing community'.
'MPI will continue to use all compliance tools and resources to ensure this type of criminal offending does not go undetected to ensure the future sustainability of the fishery.'
Mr Mikkelsen encourages fishing industry operators and non-commercial fishers to report any suspected illegal activity through the Ministry’s 0800 4 Poacher number (0800 4 76224).
'All calls are treated in the strictest confidence and the information we receive helps stamp out any illegal fishing and helps ensure we have a sustainable fishery for future generations.'