A Napier fishing company and its directors have been fined more than $1.4 million for sustained under-reporting of its bluenose catch.

Hawkes Bay Seafoods, two directors and its general manager, were fined $1.09 million for under-reporting 27 tonnes of bluenose linked to export consignments to Australia between 2012 and 2014.

The defendants, who had pleaded guilty in 2017, were also ordered to pay $418,500 in redemption fees for the return of four fishing vessels that the court ordered to be forfeited to the Crown after the offending. The sentences were delivered in the Wellington District Court today.

Steve Ham, manager of fisheries compliance at the Ministry for Primary Industries, said today’s result is significant.

The offending had been sustained over a number of years and the judgment made clear that Hawkes Bay Seafoods’ general manager, Marcus D’Esposito, had known his actions were against the law. 

“Today’s outcome sends a clear message to anyone who is thinking of offending similarly – MPI will ensure that people who break the law in this way are dealt with accordingly.”

The directors sentenced today were Antonino and Giancarlo D’Esposito.

MPI said the offending was uncovered when it found the weight of bluenose recorded in the company’s documents was different to the actual amount being sent to be sold in Australia. There were 15 separate occasions where exports of under-reported fish were identified for sale.

The New Zealand fishing industry employs about 13,000 full-time workers and catches about 600,000 tonnes annually. Seafood exports were worth about $1.78 billion last year and could reach $1.96 billion by 2020, MPI said in its latest Situation and Outlook publication in December.

A quota management system, introduced in 1986, covers about 100 commercial species. It sets maximum regional catches by species in order to maintain the sustainability of the fishery.

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash, also MP for Napier, said the case had cost taxpayers more than $2.3 million to investigate and prosecute. But he said the quota management system had to be defended.

“All of us have a stake in making sure the quota management system is respected and followed. Whether you are a commercial operator, involved in recreational fishing, a holder of customary rights, or active in marine protection efforts, the one guiding principle is the need for fisheries to be managed sustainably for future generations.”

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