Record £187,000 fines and costs for Oban firm

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The owners and master of two scallop dredging vessels have been prosecuted for ‘multiple’ fishing offences off the Yorkshire coast.

The master of the Star of Annan OB50, Alec Murray, of Upper Bayble, Isle of Lewis, was ordered to pay £3,633.

But the owner of the vessel, John MacAlister (Oban) Ltd of South Pier, Oban, was ordered to pay a total of £187,170 in fines and associated costs.

MacAlister and Murray pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to 10 offences which took  place between March 4 and May 28, 2019.

The prosecutions were brought by the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority (NEIFCA), which acts as an enforcement and compliance organisation.

Offences included operating in a closed season; using scallop dredges without the authority of a permit; exceeding the permitted number of dredges; failing to operate a fully functioning vessel identification system and landing undersized scallops.

Mitigation put forward included unfamiliarity with local regulations.

MacAlister also appeared as a director representing a company called Q Varl Fishing Co Ltd based in Torquay.

It was ordered to pay £17,310 in fines and associated costs relating to two similar offences committed by its fishing vessel Q Varl BM29 in the same area, between May 27 and June 4, 2019, but under a different skipper.

A warrant for the arrest of that vessel’s skipper was issued after he failed to appear at the court hearing.

David McCandless, chief inshore fisheries and conservation officer at the NEIFCA, welcomed the magistrates’ decision.

He said it reflected both the level of offending and the ‘blatant’ disregard shown for local regulations.

It represented a ‘record’ fine and costs for the NEIFCA organisation, with its previous largest fine being around £30,000, he said, adding that it is also the largest ever fine issued across the whole inshore authority area – the previous being £65,000.

It is not known if an appeal will be lodged.

At the sentencing hearing at Scarborough Magistrates Court, the bench found that there had been a ‘deliberate failure’ to put in place and to enforce such systems as could reasonably be expected in all the circumstances to avoid commission of the offences.

The court also acknowledged the ‘significant’ associated impacts of the offending on local ‘static gear’ fisheries which was evidenced by the NEIFCA officers, including photographs.

The cases were brought following ‘significant’ patrol and enforcement by NEIFCA officers, which is headquartered at Bridlington, East Yorkshire, an area known as the ‘lobster capital of Europe’.

Mr McCandless commented: ‘We have worked very hard to manage and police the scallop fishery in the north east to ensure its sustainability, to protect co-located static gear fisheries and to minimise impacts on the marine environment.

‘These prosecutions should send a very clear message that the courts take marine conservation and the sustainable harvesting of shellfish very seriously and the outcome is a recognition of the important work that IFCA’s do.’

He added: ‘I would also like to thank the officers of Northumberland IFCA for their assistance in gathering some of the key supporting evidence relating to the cases.

‘All the IFCAs work collaboratively and in partnership with a wide range of other agencies to ensure that English inshore waters are managed and monitored effectively.’

The NEIFCA retains a statutory duty under the 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act to manage the sustainable ‘exploitation’ of sea fisheries resources.

Images provided as evidence during the court case included the following.