The master of a fishing vessel was fined £2,000 today for illegally discarding fish above the legal landing size.
James Kevin Ritch, 45, of Olivette, Hamnavoe, Burra, pleaded guilty to the offence, which took place on 26th September in the Scottish zone of the North Sea when he had been master of the Alison Kay and when inspectors were on board.
Ritch, who was working as relief skipper, admitted the crew on the vessel had discarded cod greater in length than 35 cm when their licence permitted them to retain fish of that size.
Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie told Lerwick Sheriff Court the practice of discarding marketable fish, known as “high grading”, was done in the hope that bigger specimens would be caught. The actions in this case were carried out by the crew while Ritch, who has 30 years experience of fishing, 10 as skipper, was on watch in the wheelhouse. Inspectors from fishery organisation Cefas were also on board at the time. This was a voluntary inspection which the boat agreed to.
The court heard that the boat, which has a “high reputation” and usually has a crew of five, has worked with Marine Scotland over the years and now had CCTV installed in the fish room to monitor catches and discards in real time.
Ritch, a first-time offender, accepted responsibility for what had gone on, although defence solicitor Martin Sinclair said the amount of discards had been “minimal”. About 16 or 20 fish, amounting to about a third or half a box with a value of £30-£50, had been dumped.
When this was brought to Ritch’s attention he told the crew to stop the practice.
Mr Sinclair said the crew were now “well aware” they could not do this even though the cod situation was not a “grim” as it was and numbers of the species were expected to increase.
He said Ritch bitterly regretted the incident and it would not arise again.
Sheriff Graeme Napier said the “strict regime” imposed in fishing is to preserve fish stocks and the offence could attract a fine of up to £50,000. However this case was at the “lower end” of the cases he had dealt with and he was re-assured the vessel now had a system in place to deal with it.