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Fish raid

Vishaal Kumar
Sunday, November 26, 2017

TWO hump head wrasse (varivoce), a protected fish species, were part of a haul in a raid on a seafood company in Suva yesterday.

Fisheries officer Meli Raicebe said about 10 tonnes of fresh and semi-produced beche-de-mer were also seized by Ministry of Fisheries officials during the raid.

The ministry has warned other companies and fishermen involved in the illegal beche-de-mer trade that they are closely monitoring the situation.

The ministry had released a public notice two months ago to ban the sale, harvesting and export of beche-de-mer.

Mr Raicebe said the ministry extended the period until November 2 for companies to export all remaining stock.

He said following the expiry of the notice early this month, the ministry gathered the Vatuwaqa-based company was still buying the banned beche-de-mer.

"The raid today (yesterday) netted quite a substantial amount," he said.

"There are other companies also we are gathering information on. We have notified them of the closure through written notifications and discussions," Mr Raicebe said.

"But this is the first company we found out that had substantial amount of evidence for us to carry out the raid."

He has warned fishermen involved in the illegal trade that they would be closing down those companies involved in the illegal business of selling and exporting beche-de-mer.

"We are closing these companies and if they are harvesting, there will be no place for them to sell their harvest. What we like to advise them is to bear with us, basically to help sustain the resources we have. Not just for tomorrow but for the future generations as well," he said.

"The ban closure usually takes years. This ban will be until the ministry identifies it is sustainable to start harvesting beche-de-mer again in the country."

He said the beche-de-mer industry was worth a lot and there could not be any monetary value put to it at the moment.

"Some of the local people selling the beche-de-mer, when they buy from the fishermen, they sell it for $80 per kilogram. So the mark up price would be substantial.

"The next stage after this raid will be to determine again if the same company is still buying or has illegal products. There are two ways in dealing with this problem which is by sending them a warning or fining them."

According to the ministry, any individual found to be involved in the illegal trade could face a fine up to $10,000 and $20,000 for companies also involved.

"The reason given by the company to us today (yesterday), was that people still kept on coming to purchase from them and they thought the ministry would lift the ban and they would probably export it again," he said.

Mr Raicebe said confiscated products would be held on exhibit, if not the Government was obliged to sell it for revenue.

Meanwhile, Fisheries Minister Semi Koroilavesau had earlier announced the ban of the sale, harvesting and export of beche-de-mer was one of the four initiatives to translate into action Government's 17 commitments made in New York in June at the United Nations at the Ocean Conference.

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