A group of fishermen and one of Hawke's Bay's largest fishing companies have been fined more than $1 million between them for under-reporting 27 tonnes of bluenose.

Hawke's Bay Seafoods is one of the companies charged by the Ministry for Primary Industries after discrepancies were discovered between the number of fish they reported and the number they exported.

Subsidiary companies Ocean Enterprises and Esplanade No 3 Ltd were also charged, along with brothers Antonino and Giancarlo D'Esposito, and Antonino's son, Marcus D'Esposito.

Hawke's Bay Seafoods has been hit with a major fine for falsifying its catch. Photo Paul Taylor
Hawke's Bay Seafoods has been hit with a major fine for falsifying its catch. Photo Paul Taylor

Antonino, known as Nino, and Giancarlo were charged as company directors while Marcus was charged as a manager.

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They pleaded guilty last year to a total of 131 charges under the Fisheries Act, admitting to exporting more than $250,000 worth of unrecorded fish.

The men were excused from appearing in the Wellington District Court this afternoon for sentencing, where Judge Bill Hastings explained the facts of the case.

The companies sold under-reported fish and made false statements between 2012 and 2014, he said.

The prosecution's case was framed around export events and the misreporting of legally required documents.

The defendant's companies received advantages as a result of the misreporting - the value of the extra fish exported was estimated to be $253,404.62.

Misreporting could lead to overfishing, or more restrictions on fishing, Judge Hastings said.

It "adversely affects the operation and reputation of New Zealand's quota management system".

Judge Hastings fined Hawkes Bay Seafoods $410,232, Ocean Enterprises $215,373, Esplanade $141,434, Marcus $126,639, Giancarlo $106,686, and Antonino $86,309.

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In total they are fined $1,086,673.

He also ordered a redemption payment for the seized fishing vessels of $418,500.

Ministry for Primary Industries fisheries officers at Hawke's Bay Seafoods, in Napier during Operation River, an investigation into illegal fishing. Photo / File
Ministry for Primary Industries fisheries officers at Hawke's Bay Seafoods, in Napier during Operation River, an investigation into illegal fishing. Photo / File

Director Nino D'Esposito, who was interviewed ahead of today's long-awaited sentence,
was unable to be at today's sentencing because of a family bereavement.

D'Esposito had told Hawke's Bay Today he hoped to continue in the industry, winding down but remaining as a consultant.

The D'Esposito family interest in the New Zealand fishing industry dates back to the arrival the Muollo brothers 102 years ago, and ventured into the wider processing and retailing areas when Harbour Inn Seafoods was established in Petone in 1983.

In 1994, the Wellington District Court imposed fines of $989,395 on them and related companies, and ordered the forfeiture of about $10 million worth of boats and vehicles, which were then returned under an arrangement with the then Ministry of Fisheries.

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash praised the fisheries compliance team and other MPI officials behind the prosecution.

Nash said the hefty fines imposed today sent "a powerful message" to any commercial operators who flout the law.

"The actions of those behind the under reporting of this catch deserve condemnation. It amounted to large-scale misreporting of our fishing stocks," Nash said.

"I have followed this case closely as both MP for Napier and more recently as Fisheries Minister. The offences have rocked the local fishing community and the wider sector. As the judge noted, it undermines the reputation of the industry and the fishery management system, and the efforts of those companies who do follow the law.

"The actions of those in the Hawke's Bay Seafoods case were an affront to all other groups who are committed to lawful and effective management of our fisheries.

"We have rules for a reason. This company broke the rules when it gave false information to officials. The fisheries resource belongs to all of us, and we expect better."

A spokesman for Hawke's Bay Seafoods said the company was "pleased" that the case had been brought to a close.

"It's regrettable that we did not have the resources to continue with our defence. However, we can now put the last four years behind us and move forward.

"We have served the Hawke's Bay region with quality seafood for more than a generation and will continue to serve the community, employing over 250 people."

Chocolate fish were handed out to the lawyers involved before the sentencing began, courtesy of the judge.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Chief District Court Judge said all parties were given chocolate fish as a "light-hearted gesture of gratitude for their excellent advocacy during what had been very lengthy proceedings."