THE New Zealand government has warned that restaurants and takeaways need to do their bit to shut down the black-market fish trade and support both sustainable fisheries and food safety.
The message came from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) today, as their compliance staff are executing authorities to search several private properties and retail outlets in Taranaki this week, as part of Operation Deep 7.
Local Fishery Officers became aware of breaches of the Fisheries Act when they undertook surveillance of some restaurants and fish-and-chip shops in New Plymouth and the surrounding area in late 2011.
MAF District Compliance Manager Mike Green says they found that some food retailers readily purchased fish outside the Quota Management System (QMS).
During the investigation phase, nine food outlets purchased more than 150 kilograms of paua (abalone) and wet fish – all outside the provisions of the Fisheries Act 1996.
According to Green: “Some of these operators have purposely evaded the fisheries record-keeping regulations and dealt with fish for cash under the table.
“We are especially disappointed knowing that each of them were well aware of the rules around buying fish as all of them had been visited by Fishery Officers in the past.
“The food retailers were prepared to flout the Fisheries Act and not comply with the regulations that were in place to protect sustainable fisheries management and commercial fishers’ livelihood.
“These food retailers’ actions contribute to and help to support the black-market trade of fish product. Poachers or fish thieves are an ongoing problem for Fishery Officers and it is only made more difficult because of the ready market these operators create.”
He also says these food retailers also did not know enough about the history of the products they were buying, such as how they had been stored, and they therefore would not necessarily know they were safe for people to eat.Fishery Officers from Wellington, Napier and Taranaki have assisted with the two-day execution phase of the operation this week. As a result of the inquiries several of the food outlet operators will face serious charges under the Fisheries Act 1996 and will be liable for fines up to $250,000 and possibly imprisonment.