Discharges for agents over crayfishing breach

Two real estate agents caught taking crayfish in the Pohatu Marine Reserve at Akaroa have been granted discharges without conviction after working to help protect the reserve.

Judge Lawry Hinton accepted that the men’s gathering of nine crayfish – six of which were the proper size and would have been eaten at a work function – had been a genuine mistake.

Dougal Boyd, 58, of West Melton, and Benjamin Rhys Donaldson, 30, of St Albans, last year admitted taking crayfish from the reserve when they were found in the area on December 5, 2017.

After hearing submissions from defence counsel Jonathan Eaton QC, and Department of Conservation prosecutor Juliette Irwin, Judge Hinton ruled that the consequences of the convictions would be “out of proportion” to the gravity of the offence.

He said: “Success as real estate agents is predicated on enduring good reputation in a competitive industry and market. A conviction and attendant inevitable publicity does give rise to negative consequences for you.”

The prosecutor said the marine reserve was signposted at all the boat ramps in the area and was marked by triangular markers on land. The men’s actions was seen as “reckless”, and diversion had not been offered because of the number of people committing breaches of the Marine Reserves Act around that time.

Mr Eaton said the reserve had previously been marked by large red buoys but the Akaroa Harbourmaster had ordered them removed because of the large number of cruise ships coming into the harbour. The triangular signs marking the reserve were “150m up at the top of the cliffs”.

The men were found 500m inside the reserve. They had nine crayfish, three of which were undersized and were measured and returned to the sea. The others were also returned when the inspectors told the men they were in the reserve.

Since being prosecuted the men had apologised and had visited boat ramps handing out laminated sheets telling fishers of the reserve details. He believed that DOC should be thanking them for the work they had done.

The men had each paid $700 donations to the Banks Peninsula Marine Reserve Trust. Mr Eaton said that amount was more than they were likely to be fined, if they were convicted.

Mr Eaton said both men had unblemished records, which they cherished and wished to keep. They had been “humiliated” by the media coverage when they pleaded guilty last year and signalled that they would seek the discharges without conviction.