Seafood company slapped with $1m fine for illegal fishing

Source: 1News

A seafood company involved in an illegal fishing operation in the Chatham Islands has been slapped with a hefty $1.05 million fine.

Michael Vernon Weaver and his company Southen Ocean Seafoods Limited - for which he is the sole director - faced 19 joint charges over a commercial scam responsible for black market pāua and crayfish valued at more than $900,000, the Ministry for Primary Industries said in a statement on Tuesday.

The 42-year-old and his company were charged under the Fisheries Act 1996 for the offending.

Weaver pleaded guilty to charges related to trading more than 12 tonnes of unreported seafood. 

He was sentenced in the Manukau District Court in July, but name suppression meant he wasn't able to be named until Tuesday.

In July, Weaver was sentenced to 12 months home detention and fined $525,000. In addition, his company was also fined $525,000.

More than 1.6 tonnes of his company's crayfish quota shares, which were valued at over $1.2 million, was also forfeited to the Crown.

It comes after a Ministry of Primary Industries investigation found that under Weaver's management, Snapper Seafoods Ltd received unreported seafood between January 2017 and March 2018 from Chatham Islands fishers.

These fishers - Kevan Huia Clarke and Robin Andrew Page - have were sentenced for their roles in the offending last year, the ministry said.

The ministry added, though, that Weaver deliberately misled Snapper Seafoods, the company he used to receive the illegal catch. Snapper Seafoods were not aware of the deception and were therefore not charged.

"Without Mr Weaver's company, Southern Ocean Seafoods Limited, this offending by the commercial fishers would not have been possible," MPI Director of Compliance Services Gary Orr said.

"He colluded with the fishers involved, agreeing to false amounts of fish to declare for the record.

"The investigation unfolded after fishery officers found more than half a tonne of unreported pāua in Chatham Island fisher Kevan Clarke's catch documentation.

"Further investigation found more discrepancies between reported catch and what had been reported as received by Mr Weaver and his company Southen Ocean Seafoods Ltd."

Orr said Weaver's sentence "sends a strong message" that this kind of offending would be investigated and put before the courts.

"Whether you're a commercial fisher or involved in the management of landed fish product – records will be inspected. If we find evidence of illegal operations, we will hold you to account," he said.

The Ministry for Primary Industries urged anyone to report any suspicious fishing activity by calling 0800 47 62 24.