Fisherman to pay £70k for quotas breach

COMPLICATED and out-of-date fishing laws are forcing trawlermen on the Suffolk and Essex coast out of business, it was warned last night.

Craig Robinson

COMPLICATED and out-of-date fishing laws are forcing trawlermen on the Suffolk and Essex coast out of business, it was warned last night.

The warning came after Trevor Mole, from West Mersea, near Colchester, was ordered to pay more than £70,000 after breaching European quota legislation.

The 55-year-old, who was sentenced yesterday at Ipswich Crown Court under the Proceeds of Crime Act, had previously pleaded guilty to four charges relating to incidents between May 2005 and April 2006.

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Judge Neil McKittrick heard how Mole, of Mersea Avenue, who has been working as a fisherman since he was 15, failed to declare the amount of fish he had caught to the authorities.

Under European law fisherman are only allowed to land a certain amount of fish during a voyage - any excess must be returned to the sea in a bid to protect some species from extinction.

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The court heard that the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA) based at Harwich launched an investigation in 2006 and found on four occasions that Mole had not declared quantities of skate and sole.

Yesterday at Ipswich Crown Court he was told to pay a confiscation order of £63,278, a fine of £5,000 and legal costs of £5,000 - a total of £73,278.

Speaking after the case John Jowers, an Essex county councillor, former leader of Colchester Borough Council and vice-chairman of the West Mersea Fishermen's Association, said while the ruling was fair the legislation was devastating the local fishing industry.

“It's the law that gives us huge cause for concern,” he said “This whole case was brought under the Proceeds of Crime Act - I thought this was for punishing drug dealers, money launderers and armed robbers? Not small, independent fishermen who are trying to make a living. It doesn't seem fair. It isn't a criminal offence.”

Mr Jowers, who was also a character witness on behalf of Mole, said the quota legislation was putting a real strain on rural jobs in coastal communities that had been fishing for many generations.

“The system is just so Byzantine,” he said. “When you're in the middle of the North Sea on a wet, stormy, winters night section 2.0, sub-section 1.3 of some legal document isn't necessarily the first thing on your mind. You unwittingly fall into the trap.”

Outside court Mole added: “We did the crime so we've got to pay. We realise that. We do feel hard done by. Its not always our fault - the system is very complex.

“There are problems facing a lot of small fisherman like me - everyone is the same. But you've got to keep going and make a choice. The whole system is a shambles.

“It used to be the fishing authorities would help you out but now don't get help at all - they have to do their job but we don't get much out of them.”

The court heard that Mr Mole, who is still fishing and works alongside his son, had previous convictions relating to similar matters from 1995, 2002 and 2004.

David Wilson, mitigating, said his client pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

Sentencing, Judge McKittrick said he knew of the pressures facing fisherman and the difficulties they experienced with the quota system.

“They may not be perfect but they are thought to be the best scheme there is,” he added. “This is the law - albeit with its genus in Europe - and all of us have to comply with it no matter how unpalatable some of us might find it.”

A spokesman for the Marine and Fisheries Agency, which brought the case, said this was a serious matter that dealt with serious offences but they recognised the difficulties facing fishermen and were working very hard to get extra quotas.

“It's our job to enforce the rules and we do that fairly and consistently,” he said. “If people have a problem with the quotas there is a political route to go down to get that changed - not through the MFA.”

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the Government knew of the problems facing many fishermen and that they were working with them to find solutions that will secure a long-term future for the industry.

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