Poachers busted for illegal pāua operation

A pair of North Otago poachers have been busted after inventing fictitious birthday events to gather pāua which they sold illegally online.

Sheryl Maafu (49) and Niuila Maafu (59) were sentenced in the Oamaru District Court yesterday on a joint charge of illegally selling pāua under the Fisheries Act, following a successful prosecution by Fisheries New Zealand.

The court heard the Maafus sold pāua meals through a Facebook site and obtained customary permits for fictitious birthday events to gather the seafood.

Fisheries NZ district team leader, Fisheries Compliance, Ian Henderson said the Maafus admitted illegally selling recreationally gathered pāua through online Facebook sales.

"Sheryl Maafu, who organised the customary authorisations, told us she knew what she was doing,” Mr Henderson said.

In May 2023 an intercepted package being couriered from Oamaru was found to contain about 12kgs of minced pāua.

Fisheries NZ also became aware of a website owned by Sheryl Maafu called ‘Always Kingdom Fundraiser’ which was advertising meals for sale, including creamed pāua for $10 a meal.

After an investigation was launched, search warrants were executed in June 2023 at two premises in Kakanui and Oamaru and the bank accounts of Sheryl Maafu were examined.

At the Kakanui building investigators found 139 shucked pāua of which 129 were less than the legal size. At the Oamaru property they found 513 pāua shells of which 442 were less than the legal size.

In total, investigators found 621 ordinary black foot pāua shells. In 2023 this amount of pāua, based on the minimum shellfish size, had a commercial retail value of $8,281.

Additionally, 22.65kgs of pāua that was seized from the Maafus held a commercial retail value of $3,827.

In July 2023 Fishery Officers formally interviewed both defendants about poaching pāua.

Sheryl Maafu was yesterday ordered to do 200 hours community work, while Niuila Maafu was ordered to do 160 hours community work.

A 2019 Ford Ranger and a 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe, along with a range of diving gear, was forfeited to the Crown.

“It’s illegal to sell recreationally caught seafood and the Maafus knew this," Mr Henderson said.

They also broke the trust of a tangata tiaki by gaining customary permits for various birthday events that never happened – yet they gathered and kept the pāua."