Northland men pay up after being caught taking rare shellfish

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Two Northland men have each been fined $500 after been caught illegally taking more than 40 of the rare and culturally precious shellfish, toheroa, from 90 Mile Beach.

The toheroa fishery was closed across New Zealand 35 years ago after toheroa numbers began to plummet.

Ministry for Primary Industries spokesman Steve Rudsdale says the incident is extremely disappointing especially when toheroa on 90 mile Beach are just beginning to re-establish themselves.

“These 2 people took 43 toheroa between them which is a very large number.

“It’s heart-breaking, really. If this sort of illegal take continues, it won’t bode well for a fishery that is already very fragile. Even disturbing toheroa can have an extremely detrimental effect on them.

“We have observed a resurgence of toheroa on 90 Mile Beach, but their numbers are still very low. They’re off-limits for a very good reason.”

Mr Rudsdale says it’s important to know the difference between toheroa and the more common tuatua.

Toheroa look very similar to tuatua but tuatua are much more prolific than toheroa so they’re not subject to the same gathering ban.

Toheroa shells are more brittle and slightly rounder than tuatua and have a slight lump at the base and tuatua shells are slightly glossy compared to toheroa and have a square, flat base.

A simple test is to sit the shellfish on its base on the sand with the sharp end standing up. A tuatua should stay standing, balanced on the flat base while the toheroa should fall over.

The 2 species can be the same size and colour depending on their age but toheroa will eventually grow twice as big as tuatua and have a darker shell.

“We’ll be taking a zero tolerance approach to any taking of toheroa in this area,” says Mr Rudsdale.

“Fisheries officers will be out and about patrolling regularly as always and I understand locals will be stepping up their efforts to patrol the beach as well.

“The penalty for being caught with up to 50 toheroa or even disturbing them is a fine of up to $500.

“If you are caught with more than 50 toheroa, you face prosecution and a maximum fine of $20,000.

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