A judge has accepted Hawke's Bay fishing boat operator Esplanade No 3 Ltd may not have been aware of a skipper's offences which led to the company being fined and banned from fishing.

In a decision in the Wellington District Court on Thursday, Judge Stephen Harrop said the charges against the company were "strict liability", meaning although it did not actually commit the offences, which resulted in skipper Karl Harrison being sentenced to 10 months' home detention, the company was, as the fishing permit holder, liable under the Fisheries Act.

"Knowledge of his offending is not an ingredient and MPI (prosecuting agency the Ministry for Primary Industries) accepts that it cannot prove that Esplanade was aware of or knew of Mr Harrison's acts and omissions."

Company lawyer Bruce Fraser said in an explanation to company director Nino D'Esposito that Judge Harrop apportioned Esplanade as 20 per cent responsible based not on knowledge or complicity but on its responsibility to ensure that measures and systems were in place to avoid offending by an employee or agent such as the skipper.

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The Judge rejected an MPI submission that the company should be deemed to have had a greater role and said: "I do not consider that sits well with strict liability where the ministry accepts it cannot prove any knowledge or awareness on the part of Esplanade of what Mr Harrison was doing or not doing."

The company was fined $62,000 for failing to report catches of more than 200 tonnes of crayfish, and banned for three years, but the forfeiture of the licence and the ban were statutory consequences of the conviction — "not a reflection necessarily of the Judge's views and assessment of culpability", Fraser said.

It related to fishing by the vessel Nimrod 1, which D'Esposito says had been sold by the company but which was still fishing under the Esplanade permit, landing catches to Ocean Enterprises.

The skipper and crew were alleged to been illegally harvesting rock lobster and selling them on the black market.

D'Esposito, who has sold major operation Hawke's Bay Seafoods to Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, said he knew nothing of the offending.

The Esplanade permit had not been used for some years and the company does not trade, he said.