Landmark poaching sentence sends 'strong message'

  • 28/04/2015

DSCF4206One of two Bay of Plenty men convicted of poaching spawning trout last winter from a stream near Rotorua has received a precedent-setting jail term.

Thomas Tawha, 41, of Kawerau was jailed for 12 months.

PICT0157 001Tawha (left) and his associates caught on 'poacher cam.'

The maximum penalty for such poaching is two years imprisonment and/or a $100,000 fine.

In handing down his sentence, judge Weir said it had been the most serious poaching case of its kind in the last decade anywhere in New Zealand.

His co-offender David Pake Leef, 35, of Te Teko failed to appear in court and Judge Weir issued a warrant for his arrest.

Tawha and Leef were found guilty at a hearing in November of poaching as many as 60 spawning trout from a spawning stream near Lake Rotiti.

Eastern Fish & Game Region Manager Andy Garrick says the sentence reflected the seriousness of the offending.

“It sends a very strong message to would-be poachers that it’s offending that’s now taken seriously by the Courts.

“These two men plundered a vulnerable spawning stream and in the process, not only took mature spawning fish but disturbed and damaged fragile spawning grounds where trout have laid their eggs.”

Mr Garrick said the poaching is the worst such case seen by Fish & Game in Rotorua in a decade. “The scale of the offending with so many fish in prime breeding condition involved is disturbing.”

“The sentences the judge imposed today serves as a very stern warning to others that poaching trout is just not worth it,” he said.

Mr Garrick says poaching impacts on the region’s economy, because it relies heavily on tourism and visiting anglers spend millions of dollars every year in the area.

Fish & Game will now look at repairing some of the damage the poachers had caused in the spawning stream, he said, and an extra release of juvenile trout from the Fish & Game Ngongotaha trout hatchery is planned.

When they first appeared late last year, Tawha and Leef refused to accept the court’s jurisdiction and claimed customary rights to take the fish. At the time, Judge Weir rejected their claims, saying they do not apply to trout as an introduced species.

Mr Garrick says the issue has previously been argued “right through the High Court and Court of Appeal and it is very clear that the law applies to everyone,” he said.

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