Judge bans New Zealand firm from fishing for three years

A subsidiary of New Zealand-based company Hawkes Bay Seafoods, which was rebranded in April 2019 as Takitimu Seafoods, has been barred from fishing for three years by a Wellington District Court judge for its part in failing to properly report rock lobster catch. 

Wellington District Court judge Stephen Harrop ordered Esplanade No. 3 to pay NZD 62,000 (USD 41,694, EUR 37,048) in fines and NZD 130 (USD 87, EUR 77) in court costs in addition to forfeiting its fishing license for three years after the company pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to keep or provide rock lobster landing returns and two counts of making misleading or false statements for incidents spanning from November 2014 to August 2015. The misreported catch is estimated to involve at least 204 kilograms of rock lobster, valued between NZD 14,000 (USD 9,418,EUR 8,369) and NZD 18,000 (USD 12,109, EUR 10,759), according to New Zealand news site Stuff.

The offenses were uncovered during a Ministry for Primary Industries (MIP) investigation, codenamed "Operation River," which aimed to expose black market rock lobster activity taking place in Hawke’s Bay and elsewhere along New Zealand’s East Coast. Undercover MIP officers met with a variety of subjects with ties to the illegal harvest and sale of rock lobster, including skipper Karl Harrison, who  fished commercially using a permit held by Esplanade. 

"[Harrison] fished for rock lobster pursuant to a fishing permit held by Esplanade, being a registered fishing company,” noted Judge Harrop while delivering his sentencing judgement on 11 April, as reported by news outlet 1 News Now. "He landed his catches to the licensed fish receiver, Ocean Enterprises Limited. Esplanade and OEL are part of a vertically integrated Napier-based fishing company which includes Hawkes Bay Seafoods Limited (HBS) as the distribution arm."

Harrison is being held responsible for 80 percent of the offending, with the other 20 percent falling to Esplanade No. 3. 

"There is no doubt that Mr. Harrison was the primary offender, but Esplanade was ultimately responsible to ensure that Mr. Harrison did not offend," Judge Harrop said. 

In August 2018, Harrison was sentenced to 10 months of home detention after pleading guilty to 67 charges, 35 of which were related to catch-landing returns. Thirteen of the charges Harrison pleaded guilty to were related to obtaining a benefit by knowingly dealing with rock lobster out of accordance with the Fisheries Act, reported Radio NZ

Although Esplanade is facing just four charges in the rock lobster case, Judge Harrop said the full breadth of the offences would equally justify 36 separate charges with an overall maximum penalty of NZD 9 million (USD 6 million, EUR 5.3 million), according to Stuff. 

Esplanade No. 3 has agreed to pay NZD 22,545.60 (USD 15,166.18, EUR 13,476.02) to MIP, the deemed value of the rock lobster that was taken, 1 News Now reported. 

The case is one of several Esplanade No. 3 has been involved in within the past few years. The company was recently tried alongside Hawke's Bay Seafoods and its family of leading executives (the D'Esposito's), Ocean Enterprises, and four skippers for allegedly falsifying sales of bluenose and other related offenses from October 2012 and July 2014. In August of last year, after seven months and halfway through the trial, guilty pleas related to 122 of the total charges were handed over by many of the defendants. Hawke's Bay Seafoods was convicted of 15 charges, with the D'Esposito trio pleading guilty to 85 separate charges. Meanwhile, Ocean Enterprises was convicted on eight charges and Esplanade No. 3 on 22.

"The reality is, of course, that Esplanade, like any company only operates through its directors and in this case, the directors of Esplanade, Nino and Joe D'Esposito, can only be described as serial, long-term offenders against fisheries legislation," said Judge Harrop on 11 April, regarding Esplanade No. 3’s four relevant previous convictions resulting from earlier MIP operations.

Earlier this month, Hawke's Bay Seafood was sold and re-launched as Takitimu Seafoods (GP) Ltd. by its sole shareholder, Kahungunu Asset Holding Company Ltd., which manages assets on behalf of Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, Stuff reported.


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