Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) fishery officers have shut down a long-running East Coast black market crayfish ring that was allegedly being run by an extended family.

More than 25 fishery officers, assisted by New Zealand Police staff, conducted five search warrants across the Poverty Bay and Bay of Plenty regions over the past two days, specifically in Tolaga Bay, Rotorua and Kawerau.

A total of 169 crayfish – the majority of which are undersized – were seized as well as a quantity of kina, two vehicles, diving gear and a boat.

So far, seven people could potentially face prosecution action, however enquiries are ongoing.

MPI Team Manager Fisheries Compliance Mid-Central, Adam Plumstead, says the Operation targeted an extended family group who had allegedly been taking and selling large numbers of crayfish in contravention of the Fisheries Act.

“We believe this family has been operating a black market ring for quite some time, with regular hauls of sometimes up to 250 crayfish from the Tolaga Bay area that were then distributed around Kawerau and Rotorua,” says Mr Plumstead.

“This sort of large-scale offending is extremely disappointing. It is ongoing, blatant theft motivated by financial gain. It is theft from other members of the community and future generations.

“Unfortunately, there is a market of willing buyers out there which serves to assist this type of activity. Those people are being spoken to and will potentially face charges as well. Without them this type of offending could not exist.

“The actions of this group show a total disregard for the sustainability of the crayfish fishery which is already under threat. This sort of abuse also leads to significant consequences for the local ecology and dependant species.

“We all have a responsibility to ensure the sustainability of a precious resource and environment. Those people who don’t respect it will be appropriately dealt with under the law.”