Villagers let off the hook

THE villagers who illegally sold the banned beche-de-mer would not be penalised, says the Minister for Fisheries, Semi Koroilavesau.

The villagers were involved in selling the product to a company in Labasa despite the ban imposed last year by the ministry.

Mr Koroilavesau said after assessing the findings of the illegal trade, investigating officers gathered the villagers were pressured by the trader to continue harvesting beche-de-mer.

“Investigations indicate that the pressure to continue to harvest was being inflicted by the identified company rather than the villagers,” Mr Koroilavesau said.

“The company was the only trader in Labasa and additional information was gathered from the concerned communities who supported the fact that the company was the sole trader (in buying illegally).”

Mr Koroilavesau said the accused was questioned with the assistance of police.

“The current law regulating the trade and export of beche-de-mer allows fisheries investigating officers to conduct relevant investigative roles which includes questioning of offenders.”

“This also includes the prosecution of the offences which are dealt with by the fisheries prosecution officers.”

Government banned the trade of beche-de-mer last year after a survey conducted revealed the population of beche-de-mer continued to decrease in local waters.

Fisheries officials seized beche-de-mer products from the company warehouse in Labasa, two weeks ago.