A Wollongong fisherman who was caught up in a massive lobster trafficking scandal has had his jail sentence reduced on appeal.
Pasquale Brancatisano was ordered to spend at least two years behind bars, after a lengthy undercover investigation by NSW Fisheries found evidence he had seriously over-fished eastern rock lobster on 10 occasions between December 2012 and May 2014.
About 640kgs of the delicacy was on-sold for $28,000 to clients including the Seacliff Functions Pty Ltd, eventually making it onto the plates of diners at Wollongong’s The Lagoon and Seacliff restaurants.
After serving five months of his sentence, Brancatisano lodged a severity appeal and was granted bail in April.
Handing down judgement on that appeal on Friday, Wollongong District Court judge Andrew Haesler echoed sentiments expressed by the sentencing magistrate.
The judge condemned Brancatisano’s conduct as “seriously criminal” and said he had undermined the trust placed in him to accurately report his catches, in line with the industry’s self-reporting quota system, which guards against over-fishing.
“Such flagrant breaches of trust undermine the quota system,” he said, in a written judgement. “He had to be punished and punished severely in order to ensure that all involved in the industry understood the importance of meeting their obligations,” the judge said.
“The lobster fishery … must be scientifically managed. The legislation has that fundamental aim. The appellant’s actions subverted that aim.”
But Judge Haesler ultimately agree with Brancatisano’s QC, who had argued that five months imprisonment had served its purpose of deterring the skipper – and any others who heard his story – of similar behaviour in future.
The judge agreed Brancatisano could serve the remainder of the sentence in the community, by way of an intensive corrections order. It is a condition of the order that he perform 160 hours of community service.
The fisheries investigation found Brancatisano breached the legislation 33 times between December 2012 and May 2014.
It also found numerous instances where he had failed to tag lobsters, or had tagged them so loosely the tags could be re-used.
In all, he was convicted on 117 counts and fined $76,000. He was also ordered to pay a whopping $250,000 in costs stemming from the legal process, which included a lengthy trial.
He did not appeal these penalties, which the court earlier heard he would be paying off for the rest of his life. The court heard he had since taken up work as a truck driver, and had no assets other than a second-hand car.
Outside court, Brancatisano welcomed Friday’s outcome as “a fair result”.
“I’m glad with the result and looking forward to the future,” he said.
Seacliff Functions Pty Ltd, its head chef Emmanuel Efstathiadis, the Unanderra-based fishing company Lochiel South Pty Ltd (Brancatisano’s employer), and one of its directors, Tory Lavalle, were also charged with more than 100 offences combined as a result of the investigation.
Seacliff was fined almost $400,000.
Efstathiadis was fined $20,000 and handed a suspended jail sentence for acting as the conduit between the restaurants and the fishing company.
Lochiel was fined $378,000 and stripped of its $800,000 worth of shares in the state’s lobster management scheme.
Lavalle was fined $40,000.
The outcomes of appeals for Lochiel and Lavalle are pending.