KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — Authorities on the Big Island are cracking down on agricultural theft by attempting to eliminate the market for stolen produce.

In a meeting with agricultural officials and farmers Friday, Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth unveiled a plan to increase market monitoring and utilize the legally required paper trail in an effort to curb the theft, West Hawaii Today reported .

“My goal is not to arrest anybody,” Roth said. “My goal is to educate people so we don’t have a market for stolen goods.”

The first step of the effort was kicked off in September when the county hired a full-time agricultural investigator. The investigator will be tasked with watching farmers markets and roadside stands where the stolen commodities are often sold.

Brooks Wakefield, who operates a family farm with her husband, said the theft of fruit and coffee costs her thousands of dollars each year. She said vendors will buy from the thieves and sell the products at a lower price than what the legitimate farmers and vendors can offer.

“There are peaks and valleys, but overall it’s getting worse over the years,” Wakefield said.

Under Hawaii law, the sale of any agricultural commodity must be accompanied by a certificate describing the product and indicating the seller, owner, buyer, origin and destination. Vendors buying a certain amount of produce must also get a copy of the seller’s identification card. Authorities plan to use this paper trail to make it more difficult for thieves.

Roth said that when authorities have cracked down on the theft in the past, crime rates plummeted.

Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com

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