Aurora admit fishing counts

July 29, 2010 10:13

Nelson company Aurora Fisheries has admitted its part in an illegal Timaru-based fishing operation that dates back to 2001 and involved millions of dollars in misreported catch, reports with reference to The Nelson Mail.

Aurora's three directors are Nelson residents Charles, James and Paul Hufflett, none of whom could be contacted this morning.

Following guilty pleas in the Wellington District Court by Aurora, Japanese company Kanai Fishing and four Japanese nationals, the forfeiture of the trawler Tomi Maru 87 is being sought.

Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley has applauded the results of the Ministry of Fisheries action, which uncovered the breaking of quota rules and misreporting a $2.4 million catch.

The ministry says the case showed one of the most significant levels of misreporting that the New Zealand quota management regime has seen.

All the defendants entered guilty pleas on a total of 54 charges under the Fisheries Act for making false returns. Eight charges were admitted by Aurora.

The practice is known as "trucking" - catching fish in one quota management area and misreporting it as coming from another.

The offending involved fish with an estimated export value of $2.4m - 481 tonnes of ling and 112 tonnes of silver warehou caught off the southern coast of the South Island by the foreign-flagged, New Zealand-registered Tomi Maru 87 in 2007-08.

It took the ministry two years to bring the case, known as "Taskforce Webb", to conclusion.

"It was also acknowledged by the defendants that similar misreporting had occurred during fishing trips dating back to 2001," the ministry said.

The ministry's deputy chief executive for field operations, Andrew Coleman, said the ministry would be looking for forfeiture of the vessel, fines and redemption.

Mr Coleman said the outcome was deeply satisfying for everyone concerned. "The operation ran for almost two years from November 2008 and was a huge team effort by a wide range of people," he said.

Sentencing of the defendants is expected within the next couple of months.

Aurora's receptionist said this morning that Charles and Paul Hufflett were both overseas and that James was not available. The company would be issuing a statement later in the day, she said.

Aurora's counsel, Mike Sullivan, said that although the company had admitted eight charges, the matter was yet to be dealt with by the court.

"The ministry has shot its bolt early," he said.

"No convictions have been entered. Matters have not been considered by the court, no penalty or convictions have been imposed and the assumption should not be made that pleas of guilty necessarily equate to convictions, especially as this matter is likely to be the subject of further evidence. Whether or not Aurora was involved in the offending is a live issue."

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