Diver convicted

A Southland commercial diver stands to lose his boat, fishing gear and the value of his seized catch after being convicted of illegally collecting an estimated 550kg of paua off the Southland coast.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has seized Dwane Herbert's boat the Y-Not and gear, and has given anyone with a legal or financial interest in the items 35 days to register with the Invercargill MPI office.

Herbert (25), a five-time junior New Zealand spearfishing champion now living at Athol, was convicted by Judge Michael Turner in the Invercargill District Court last week of taking paua from the Waipapa Point reef shoreline, an area closed to commercial shellfish gathering. He will be sentenced in August.

MPI lawyer Leonie Matahaere said the area was closed commercially in the 1970s or 1980s, mainly because of food safety concerns, although recreational harvesting was allowed.

The quantity of paua taken from a closed commercial area could have an impact on the local population, which by nature were not widely distributed and relied heavily on close proximity of other paua for sustainability, she said.

Commercial fishing regulations enacted in 1986 said fish and property used by an offender breaching the rules would be forfeited to the Crown unless the court found special reasons not to, Ms Matahaere said.

The summary of facts said fisheries officers were told on December 5 last year a commercial fishing vessel had been launched at Fortrose.

The officers watched a person who turned out to be Herbert diving for four hours within the closed area.

When the officers spoke to Herbert at Fortrose he had four baskets, 11 tubs and eight sacks of paua on board which he had estimated on his catch return weighed 550kg. A fish-processing company truck arrived to collect the catch.

Fisheries officers let the catch be taken away but later told the processing company the catch had been seized but would be allowed to be processed to preserve its value.

Interviewed on December 13, Herbert showed officers a copy of the annual operating plan for the area he was diving in and told them he had received incorrect advice on the boundaries of the closed area.

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