Skipper fined for illegal fishing in protected area

A video taken by the crew of a passing boat showed the crewmen of the Star of Annan working with and emptying scallop dredges in the marine protected area. This is a screenshot of footage shared by the Crown Office.

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A 56-year-old fishing boat skipper has been fined after being found guilty of illegal fishing in a marine protected area off Scotland’s northwest coast.

On April 14, Stornoway Sheriff Court heard that Alex Murray, of the Isle of Lewis, was in charge of the FV Star of Annan while it was operating with its fishing gear deployed within the Wester Ross Marine Protection Area (MPA) on July 18, 2019.

FV Star of Annan is a dredging vessel which tows approximately eight dredges on port side and eight dredges on starboard side to target King Scallops. The scallop dredges used by the vessel are heavy metal rakes with teeth and chain bags designed to lift and collect King Scallops from both the top and underlayer of the seabed.

The court heard that on July 18, 2019, the Star of Annan (OB50) was observed by a passing yacht to be within the Wester Ross MPA at 11.30 hours. A witness told the court that he was ‘100 per cent the vessel was fishing’ when he saw it within this area.

In the late afternoon the Master of another vessel saw the Star of Annan again in the Western Ross Marine Protected Area. A video taken by the crew played to the court showed the crewmen of the Star of Annan working with and emptying scallop dredges.

The video also showed that the fishing gear was not properly lashed and stowed in such a way that it may not be readily used contrary to the Wester Ross Marine Conservation Order (2016).

Murray’s position was that his vessel had only entered the protection zone to seek shelter after fishing equipment became stuck and could not be hauled back in due to engine and hydraulic machinery problems.

The vessel’s VMS (vessel monitoring system) data was led in evidence at trial. It showed the speeds and position of the vessel throughout July 18. The vessel’s speeds within the Wester Ross Marine Protected Area were said to be consistent with fishing speeds.

Within a week, in two separate dives, divers found damage to the seabed in one of the locations the Star of Annan had been in. This damage was said to look like dredging damage.

Murray was found guilty of a charge under Section 85 (1) and Section 94 of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. He was fined £3,211.43.

Procurator Fiscal for Grampian, Highland and Islands, Andy Shanks said: ‘It is clear from the evidence led at trial that Alex Murray was carrying out highly damaging dredging activities in an area designated to protect it from such.

‘His failure to comply with the order protecting this habitat has resulted in his conviction.

‘It is vitally important that there are laws in place to protect such important sites and, as with this case, where there is sufficient evidence of a crime and, if it is appropriate and in the public interest to do so, we will prosecute.’