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Fine forces skipper to put boat on sale

Western Morning News

28th November 2005
A crippling fine of £6,500 was recently imposed on Newlyn skipper, Shaun Edwards - a sum that was half the value of the fish he caught that week - and he must now consider selling his boat to pay it.

In Shetland last week, two part-owners of the massive pelagic trawler Altaire admitted to carrying out the largest ever "black fish" crime in the UK - catching £3.4 million worth of over-quota mackerel and herring - and were collectively fined £90,000, only 2.6 per cent of the value of the catch.

Paul Trebilcock, of the Cornish Fish Producers' Organisation said: "Shaun Edwards made a simple paperwork error in his logbook."

Gill net fisherman Mr Edwards says the future of his boat, the 65ft Nova Spero, is now in the balance.  He pleaded guilty in Camborne Magistrates' Court, saying that on three species - cod, saithe and ling - he exceeded the 20 per cent tolerance limit of fish weights shown in the logbook.

Both he and Mr Trebilcock described the prosecution and level of fine as "vindictive".

Mr Edwards said: "After we had been working 19-hour days for over a week, with one crewman short and one who was not used to guessing the weight of fish, I now have a criminal record.

"I had no intention of breaking the rules and there was no true crime committed.  My landing declaration, an official statement of the fish we landed, was accurate to the kilo.  I had plenty of quotas available, I had leased a huge amount of quota so that we could fish on all year.

"The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was well aware of my landing and had every opportunity to attend.  It was a genuine miscalculation and now they have put me in a position where my boat is up for sale.  I asked if I could appeal and my solicitor told me that no one can afford to take on the Civil Service.  It sickens me that we now live in a police state."

Mr Trebilcock said: "Local magistrates were clearly ill-informed and, with the greatest respect to them, not really aware of what happened in this case.  It was a vindictive prosecution that could have been dealt with on the quayside with a bit of common sense and co-operation.  I think this represents a serious lack of judgment by the inspectorate.

A DEFRA spokesman said it was "not a technical offence", and the department was "acting in the best interests of the fishing industry".