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'Mongrel' seafood poacher sentenced in Napier over $24k worth of black market pāua

A pāua poacher from Napier labelled a "mongrel" by the industry he works in has been sentenced to 10 months of home detention, while his seafood company has been fined $27,000.

Paua

Giancarlo "Joe" Harold D'Esposito, 57, and Hawkes Bay Seafoods Limited were today sentenced in the Napier District Court after admitting to illegally obtaining and selling $24,000 worth of the black market molluscs in November last year, the Ministry for Primary Industries said in a press release.

Between September 2014 and August 2015, D'Esposito paid cash to an undercover MPI officer for approximately 1140 kilograms of black market pāua with a wholesale commercial value of around $24,040, MPI manager of compliance investigations Gerry Andersonsaid in a statement.

D'Esposito had been the owner and director of the Hawkes Bay Seafoods Limited group of companies at the time of the offending, Mr Anderson said, and both he and the company had a history of fishing-related offences.

Last year, D'Esposito and the company received significant fines after pleading guilty to 15 charges of selling unreported fish. He was also fined after pleading guilty to a further 23 charges of misreporting on fisheries returns.

"The amount of pāua involved, coupled with the fact that Mr D’Esposito knew that his actions were illegal and took steps to conceal them, makes this serious offending. The offending spanned a period of 11 months and occurred on repeated occasions at the retail premises of a fishing company that Mr D’Esposito owned and directed," he said.

"The rules are there for a reason. When people just take what they want it threatens the health and sustainability of our fisheries for future generations.

"We think this sentence sends a strong message that those who want to steal New Zealand’s precious kaimoana will be pursued and held to account."

In a seperate release today, the Pāua Industry Council agreed. 

“This is greed, pure and simple," said Jeremy Cooper, chief executive officer of the organisation. "Pāua is a highly prized recreational catch and particularly important to Māori. By buying illegal fish, they are undercutting the commercial price and depleting the resource at the same time. 

“We manage the pāua stocks carefully and mongrels who don’t give a damn about sustainability make my blood boil.”

Today's sentencing marks the end of a comprehensive six-year compliance operation to combat black market seafood, codenamed River, said MPI's Mr Anderson.

The operation, beginning in March 2014, has led to 18 convictions for people or associated entities on charges of trading in black market pāua and crayfish, he said.

"The offenders received a range of sentences including prison, community detention, community work, significant fines, forfeiture of vehicles, vessels and cell phones, and one ban from all fishing activity.

"It’s taken almost six years of meticulous investigation and prosecution work to get to this point. We are proud of the efforts of the many fisheries officers, investigators and prosecutors who have worked to hold those responsible to account."

Anyone with information on poaching or black market trade in seafood has been advised to contact MPI on 0800 47 62 24.