Do fisheries officers have a bag limit of one?

It looks suspiciously as if the authorities have been highly selective, when policing the Marlborough Sounds fishing ban.

A Picton pensioner – accordingly – could well be right in claiming he has been made a scapegoat after becoming the first person prosecuted for flouting the ban on blue cod fishing.

Outside the Blenheim District Court yesterday, Pietro Rocco, 71, a retired restaurateur, said he believed he had been singled out because of his outspoken opposition to the ban.

He pleaded guilty and was fined $500. No conviction was entered.

Judge Tony Zohrab said that given Rocco’s long-standing contribution to the community, a higher fine was not appropriate.

“You are a good man and have done good work for the community … please learn from this experience,” he said.

The four-year ban is highly controversial among mates of Alf who enjoy taking a break in the Sounds. It was prompted by concerns about overfishing, came into effect at the beginning of October last year and forbids blue cod fishing in the inner Marlborough Sounds.

Rocco was charged with taking blue cod from the sounds after he was caught with two fish on his boat on October 27 last year.

A fair cop, apparently.

But he makes a good case for his scapegoat allegation:

Documents produced in the case showed that while 416 fishermen had been caught with blue cod by April this year, Rocco was the only person to face prosecution.

Fisheries compliance officer Geoff Clark countered that by saying 409 of the 416 people found with blue cod were able to prove they had been caught outside the restricted area.

So how could they prove that? Do the bloody fish carry certificates telling the authorities where they were swimming when hooked?

Sounds like bollocks to Alf.

And what about the other seven people who were caught?

Why weren’t they prosecuted?

Radich doesn’t come out of this squeaky clean, mind you.

He admitted misleading Ministry of Fisheries’ officials, initially telling them he had no blue cod on board and then blaming the find on his absent nephew.

Rocco’s lawyer, Peter Radich, described the attempt at deception as being done “in the heat of moment”.

Moreover, Clark says Rocco’s attempts to mislead officials had made a prosecution difficult to avoid.

“He wasn’t forthcoming in the fact that he took the cod from the area or that he was responsible for it.”

But it looks like his biggest blunder was not claiming to have caught the fish somewhere else.

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