Otago paua poaching ringleader sentenced to prison

40 year-old Dunedin man has received a prison sentence in the Dunedin District Court for his role as the primary offender in a large Otago paua poaching operation.

On Friday, Ryan Karl Tapsell was sentenced to four years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of two years, after being convicted of fifteen charges under the Fisheries Act 1996 in relation to falsely obtaining a customary authorisation to take paua, illegally taking paua and selling paua without a permit. Mr Tapsell also had a significant amount of equipment used in the offending forfeited to the crown including two vehicles, a boat and outboard motor, several cell phones, and a large amount of dive gear.

Between July 2010 and March 2011 the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) conducted an investigation named Operation Apollo which followed a group of paua poachers as they took excess paua from a closed commercial paua area and on-sold the paua to local fish and chip shops. The primary offender in this group was Mr Tapsell who would arrange for customary authorisations to be issued to him on the basis of fictitious events.

A customary authorisation is a privilege that allows the holder to take more than the daily limit of paua for a specified event on a single date authorised by the local Tangata Tiaki. Tapsell however, would use these authorisations to take fish from the date of issue until the actual specified date permitted for the taking. In addition he managed to convince the local Tangata Tiaki to issue him authorisations which allowed extensions of time and would then repeatedly dive the same authorisation gathering the total or close to the total each time he went out diving.

Mr Tapsell would then arrange with other members of the poaching ring for the paua to be on sold for a profit to other parties including fish and chip shops for up to five times below the true market value. A number of others have already been sentenced for their role in this operation.

In total over 1580 paua shells were recovered from Mr Tapsell’s address and between 395kg and 526kg of paua meat is believed to have been sold (though the Ministry considers this to be conservative). Text message information records that Mr Tapsell was selling his paua on the black market for between $22-$25 per kilogram, netting the group a profit of between $9085 and $12098.

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Otago District Compliance Manager Murray Pridham, says that MPI is pleased to see the courts taking a strong stance on this type of offending.

'This sentence shows that offenders will receive significant prison time for committing serious fisheries offences,' says Mr Pridham.

'Black market dealings in paua are effectively theft of a national resource. Poachers not only risk fish stocks but they are stealing from their communities and making it harder for compliant recreational fishers to enjoy fishing activities by taking more than their legal entitlement and benefiting from it.'

'The offending is in reality a premeditated and complex commercial enterprise that may well have undercut those legitimate operators who rely on fish dealers to purchase their product, not to mention the potential health effects from selling paua that have not been processed in accordance with the required health standards.'

Under the Fisheries Act 1996 the maximum penalties for selling your recreational catch to obtain a benefit is five years' imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine.

The national paua limit is ten paua per person per day. Paua must be a minimum of 125 millimetres nationally (excluding some areas in the Taranaki region).

'Our fishery officers are entrusted with protecting our fish stocks. We also greatly appreciate the support of the community in reporting poachers and those who break the rules. If you see people acting suspiciously we want to know about it.'

Fishery officers ask the public to report any suspicious activity in our fisheries by phoning 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224). All calls are kept confidential.

For further information about fishing rules and limits visit MPI Fisheries website Alternatively you can get up-to-date fishing rules with the free MPI fishing app by texting 'app' to 9889 or visiting MPI Fisheries Application