A Talley's Group-owned deep sea trawler has been found guilty of illegally fishing in a protected marine reserve off Kaikōura.
The Amaltal Mariner was bottom trawling from orange roughy off Kaikōura when it entered the Hikurangi Marine Reserve last year.
According to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which brought the charges, the boat trawled for more than a kilometre within the protected reserve before the net was retrieved.
Amaltal Fishing Co Limited originally pleaded not guilty to the charges, while the boat's skipper pleaded guilty.
The company argued it wasn't liable for the offending as the skipper was employed by a different Talley's company, but the judge rejected that.
"In the context of increasingly complicated limited liability company structures, it is important that the integrity of the Marine Reserves Act is maintained," Judge Rielly said in his reserved decision, released today.
"It would be an unfortunate outcome at law if the consequences intended by Parliament could be evaded based on advanced company structures."
However after today's verdict, the company says it's likely to appeal the ruling.
The charges were brought by the Ministry for Primary Industry, which says it expects fishing companies and skippers to know the rules before they head out.
"A marine reserve is a fully protected area where you're not allowed to fish," fisheries manager Steve Ham says.
"We can track the position of fishing vessels in real time using GPS technology so we were alerted when the vessel entered the marine reserve. "
Green MP Eugenie Sage says the prosecution is an increase in accountability from Fisheries NZ and MPI.
"What goes on off our coasts has for too long been treated as out of sight and out of mind," she says.
"This is despite the fact that healthy and thriving oceans and marine species are critical to the health of Aotearoa and our planet."
Amaltal Fishing Co Ltd will be sentenced at a later date, MPI says.
Amaltal spokesperson Tony Hazlett says it's likely the company will appeal the verdict, saying the skipper acted against company policy and they shouldn't be blamed.
"The skipper also had a catch plan for the trip and it was his responsibility to determine exactly where to fish and to ensure the vessel operates legally once at sea," he says.
"He has admitted and apologised for the mistake and for acting in error against company policy and instruction. There should not be attributed liability to Amaltal."