Dutch captain found guilty of breaching EU sea fishery regulations in Irish waters
Jury finds skipper had equipment on board capable of dumping small fish overboard
Dumping pelagic fish such as mackerel herring and horse mackerel at sea has been banned in the EU since January
The skipper of a Dutch-owned factory ship has been found guilty of breaching EU sea fishery regulations by having equipment on board capable of dumping fish overboard.
Klass Dirk Meijvogel, with an address at Jan Tooropstraut, 9 Katwick, Netherlands, had denied the charge relating to his captaincy of the Wiron 5 on February 11th, 2015.
The State alleged Meijvogel was the master of the Wiron 5 when she had on board equipment capable of automatically grading herring, mackerel and horse mackerel by size.
Since January of this year, EU regulations have made it illegal to discharge or return pelagic fish such as herring, mackerel or horse mackerel to the sea after they are caught.
Meijvogel’s trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard how the Wiron 5 was fishing in Irish waters when stopped by the LE Samuel Beckett as part of a routine inspection.
Sub Lt Niall McCarthy, who led the boarding party, told the court he had asked to see the skipper and inspected its logbook. He noted that the boat had a recorded catch of 292 tonnes made up primarily of mackerel and horse mackerel, with a by-catch of hake, which were all stored in its freezers.
He said he noticed an automatic grading system running from the stern of the boat where caught fish were passed over a hole and smaller fish fell through into a chute running beneath. He believed the grading equipment was in breach of EU regulations.
Sub Lt McCarthy informed Meijvogel he was detaining the Wiron 5 for a suspected breach of EU fishing regulations and the Naval Service escorted the vessel to Haulbowline Naval Base.
Cross-examined by solicitor Dermot Conway for Meijvogel, Sub Lt McCarthy accepted the Wiron 5 was catching around 350,000 fish – or 40-50 tonnes of fish – per day for processing.
Leading Shipwright James Cotter told the court that the transportation chute on board the Wiron 5 ran from bow to stern under both the automatic and manual grading equipment.
There was a flow of water running along the chute transporting fish in the chute back into a sump at the aft of the ship from where the fish could be discharged into the sea, he said
There were small and broken fish in the sump and whenever the sump filled up with water, its contents including both water and fish were pumped overboard.
Sea Fisheries Protection Officer John Hederman, who also boarded the Wiron 5, said he saw both automatic grading equipment and a manual grading area for fish.
On a factory ship such as the Wiron 5, fish are graded, sorted and tyhen frozen on board.
Asked about the regulation, Mr Hederman explained that larger fish were worth more per tonne than smaller fish and a catch of larger fish was more commercially lucrative. The risk with an automatic grading system is that it can lead to the discarding of legal but less valuable smaller fish, he said.
Cross-examined by Mr Conway, Mr Hederman agreed he had not inspected any of the cartons on the Wiron 5 to see if they contained smaller fish.
Mr Hederman also accepted he had not inspected the freezing area but he was satisfied from looking at the system it was capable of discharging fish.
Put to him by Mr Conway that he was mistaken about a chute running from the manual sorting area back to the sump at the aft of the ship, Mr Hederman said that was what he saw.
Andrew Pillar, fleet operations manager for the company which owns the Wiron 5, said it was not company policy to discard smaller fish in contravention of the EU regulations on pelagic fish.
Prosecution barrister Don McCarthy told the jury in his summing up the charge was not whether the ship was discarding fish but whether it had the capacity to discard fish.
The jury, which heard evidence over two days, found Meijvogel guilty by a majority 10-2 verdict.
Judge Sean O Donnabhain remanded Meijvogel on bail for sentence on July 27th next.