A Wollongong fisherman at the centre of major commercial fishing scam is just the fourth person in NSW to be handed a full-time prison sentence.
Pasquale Brancatisano was convicted on more than 100 charges, fined $76,000 and jailed for at least two years in Port Kembla Local Court on Wednesday following a lengthy undercover investigation by NSW Fisheries into overfishing of eastern rock lobster off the Illawarra coastline.
The court heard Brancatisano was working for Unanderra business Lochiel South Pty Ltd as their head fisherman when he was recorded under-tagging (or failing to tag) his catch on multiple occasions over a 14-month period in a bid to skirt the legal quota applicable to lobster under NSW law.
In total, Brancatisano acquired 640kg of illegal lobster between February 2013 and April 2014, valued at $28,000.
The illegal catch was then on-sold to clients including the Seacliff Functions Pty Ltd, the parent company of the Lagoon and Seacliff restaurants.
Magistrate David Williams said he was satisfied Brancatisano had been motivated by financial gain in carrying out the scam.
“It was a planned, organised activity that extended over a significant period of time,” he said.
“This was a criminal endeavour of very significant scope.”
The court heard the most serious charge levelled against Brancatisano carried a maximum jail term of 10 years, but sentencing statistics revealed only eight such cases had been dealt with in the local court, and of those, only three people received custodial sentences.
In a bid for leniency, Brancatisano told the court he was no longer able to work in the fishing industry and currently lived with his elderly parents in Victoria, earning between $200 and $500 a week mowing lawns.
He said he needed his liberty in order to drive his wheechair-bound adult son to the Royal Melbourne Hospital five days a month for treatment.
Magistrate Williams empathised with Brancatisano’s situation but said it did not meet the threshold of extraordinary circumstances to warrant any leniency in his sentence.
He said he was satisfied prison was the only appropriate option for Brancatisano given the objective seriousness of the matter.
Brancatisano has lodged an appeal against the sentence but his application for appeals bail was refused.
Seacliff, it’s head chef Emmanuel Efstathiadis, Lochiel South Pty Ltd, and one of its directors, Tory Lavalle, were also charged with more than 100 offences combined as a result of the investigation.
They will be sentenced in December.