9 Jun 2010

Urgent appeal hearing sought over paua poaching

9:29 pm on 9 June 2010

The Ministry of Fisheries is seeking an urgent hearing in the Court of Appeal to close a loophole ruling out some undercover operations against paua poaching.

The High Court has ruled that buying the shellfish from an undercover officer is legal because of a mistake in the Fisheries Act.

The ministry says the case raises important issues and a hearing is being sought as soon as possible to challenge the ruling.

The Seafood Industry Council says it supports urgent action being taken, because the law was always intended to allow undercover operations.

It says the law should be changed if it is not doing the job originally intended by Parliament.

But the lawyer who won the High Court case, Paul Heaslip, says he already has another five or six clients wanting to challenge their convictions.

Lawyer says sting was unlawful

A lawyer who represents several other people convicted in undercover paua operations says undercover fisheries officers have been acting unlawfully by luring fish and chip shop owners to buy black-market paua.

The High Court overturned the conviction of a woman caught in a so-called sting operation, when undercover officers offered to sell her what was considered to be illegal paua.

The Court found that because an agent of the Crown was selling it, the fish was automatically legal for sale.

Manukau lawyer Ted Faleauto, who represents four of those convicted, says no crime would have been committed if his clients had not been approached by the undercover officers, who were cold-calling on fish and chip shops.

He says fisheries officers should focus on catching people committing crimes, not trying to entice people to break the law.