The skipper of a Dutch factory ship has received one of the largest ever penalties for breach of fishing regulations in Irish waters when he had his catch and gear worth more than €400,000 confiscated.
Klass Dirk Meijvogel, with an address at Jan Tooropstraut, 9 Katwick in Netherlands, had been convicted last month of a single fishing offence relating to his captaincy of the Wiron 5 on February 11th, 2015.
The State had alleged that Mr 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.
The charge alleged this equipment was not installed or located on board the Wiron 5 in such a way as to ensure immediate freezing of fish or prevent the return of fish to the sea.
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.
Mr Meijvogel's trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard how the Wiron 5 was fishing within the Irish exclusion zone on the day in question when she stopped by the Irish Naval Service.
Lt Commander Anthony Geraghty, captain of the LE Samuel Beckett, told how he had sent a boarding party aboard the UK registered Wiron 5 as part of a routine inspection.
Sub Lt Niall McCarthy, who led the boarding party, told how he inspected the ship’s logbook and found it had recorded a catch of 292 tonnes of fish made up mainly of mackerel and horse-mackerel.
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.
Leading Shipwright James Cotter said the chute ran from bow to stern under both the automatic and the manual grading equipment with a flow of water bringing fish along the chute into a sump.
There were small and broken fish in the sump and whenever the sump filled up with water, its contents including both water and any fish therein, were pumped directly overboard.
Sea Fisheries protection officer John Hederman explained that larger fish were worth more per tonne than smaller fish and therefore 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 as skippers seek to keep larger more valuable fish to fill their quota.
Andrew Pillar, fleet operations manager for the company that owns the Wiron 5,said it was not company policy to discard smaller fish in contravention of the EU regulations on pelagic fish.
Following conviction, the case was adjourned for penalty until Tuesday when Judge Sean O Donnabhain heard the value of the catch was €344,960 and the value of the gear was €55,000.
Defence solicitor Rory Conway said the ship, which had been fishing in Irish and British waters, had ceased all fishing operations since the boarding by the Irish Naval Service.
Judge O Donnabhain said the offence was of a technical nature and he was obliged under EU fishing regulations to order the confiscation of both the catch and the gear as part of the penalty.
He accepted the penalty was significant given the ship had a catch worth €344,960 and gear worth €55,000 while he also fined the skipper €500 for the offence, which carries maximum fine of €35,000.