The crew of a Norwegian fishing boat were stuck in Lerwick unable to fish for eight days due to the slow speed of Marine Scotland’s investigation into a breach of EU rules.
The skipper of the pelagic boat Sklinnabanken was fined the unusually low penalty of £2,000 at Lerwick Sheriff Court today after Sheriff Graeme Napier heard of the crew’s treatment at the hands of the fishery protection service. The sheriff told the court he suspected they had not been told by Marine Scotland that its powers to detain their boat ran out after five days.
Albert Meloysund, 60, of Engavagen, in northern Norway, admitted failing to observe an EU regulation requiring him to notify the authorities at least two hours before entering or leaving the British sector of the North Sea.
He denied misreporting his catch in his logbook by declaring 130 tonnes of mackerel when he had aboard nearly 177 tonnes (36 per cent extra). His plea was accepted.
The boat’s fish was sold at Shetland Catch for £156,763 of which around £100,000 went to the owners and the rest to a central Norwegian fishing organisation which uses the funds for fisheries projects.
The reporting-in rule is intended to enable the Scottish authorities to monitor and inspect the catching of mackerel this year by the Norwegians who have an agreement with the EU for the species to be caught in each other’s waters. Norwegian boats must pass in and out through one of two control zones, declaring their catch before they leave.
Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie said it was not clear when the Sklinnabanken entered EU waters but the fisheries protection ship Jura encountered her by chance as she was heading back out to the Norwegian sector on Sunday 10th October. He told the court: “The situation here is quite simply a blatant failure to comply with well-understood regulations.”
The Sklinnabanken was escorted into Lerwick and waited eight days for the court hearing. Another Norwegian boat Buefjord had been arrested the previous day but her case was dealt with by the court four days later, allowing her to then leave.
The court heard the delay for Mr Meloysund and his men cost the boat’s owners over £100,000 in lost fishing time and in loan interest payments.
Mr MacKenzie said he had only received the report on the incident from Marine Scotland late last Thursday afternoon and there had been problems getting an interpreter.
Mr Meloysund, a skipper for 39 years, listened to proceedings through an interpreter who was brought up to Shetland for the court case. His defence agent Tommy Allan said he had only become skipper of the boat when it was bought in August and was not aware of the reporting-in requirements.
The offence had been “an expensive mistake” and one which the owners hoped would not be repeated. Instead of being tied up in Lerwick the boat should have been fishing horse mackerel (scad) over the past week in Norwegian waters.
Mr Allan said it had not become clear to the crew until their day in court that they had been free to leave Lerwick with their boat on Friday if they had wished.
Sheriff Napier told the accused he was taking an unusual approach to sentencing in his case. While stressing the seriousness of breaching conservation rules he said it seemed to him that the boat’s owners had already been taught an expensive lesson for which the skipper was responsible.
Although the offence carries a penalty of up to £50,000 plus the value of the catch he imposed a fine of just £2,000 because the owners had suffered by having the boat tied up much longer than usual.