Irish fisherman ordered to pay donation for illegal skate landing
The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority ( SFPA )
12. July 2013
Fisherman Ordered to Pay Donation to Conservation Group for Landing Endangered Species
A Judge ruled that the State’s case was proven at a recent case brought before Donegal Town District Court – Mr Shane Curran, the Master of the fishing vessel the Velvet Chord II, was ordered to pay €500 to a conservation group. The case was in relation to a suspected landing of common skate, an endangered species under EU Regulation, by the Velvet Chord II on the 19th August 2011 in Killybegs. During the course of the inspection, Sea-Fisheries Protection Officers (SFPOs) of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) discovered that the Master of the vessel landed 63 common skate in three fish boxes. These fish were logged as long-nosed skate and were caught off west Scotland. However, the fish were identified as the endangered species the common skate by referring to the identification guide An identification guide to the Sharks, Skates, Rays and Chimaera, published by the Shark Trust.
Mr Shane Curran pleaded not guilty and an SFPO was called to the witness box to give evidence where he explained his findings to the court and detailed the importance of the conservation measures put in place for species such as common skate, which are listed as critically endangered. The SFPO explained to the Judge that although common skate and long-nosed skate were quite similar there were significant differences between the species and these differences enable an observer to differentiate between the species. The Judge looked at the identification guide and commented that the two species looked quite similar. When questioned by the defence, the SFPO acknowledged that there were practical difficulties for the Master of a vessel to identify skate species while operating a vessel on the high seas and that the value of the retained skate was relatively small, and amounted to approximately €170.
When Mr Shane Curran testified he explained that the fish were sorted onboard by four crewmembers, while he stayed in the wheelhouse. He said that his crew were instructed not to retain certain species of fish such as common skate but that he was usually not available to oversee the sorting as he was busy tending to the vessel. The Judge acknowledged the fact that the Master of a fishing vessel had various duties and a lot of responsibility however the onus rested with him to ensure that the crew were adequately briefed as to what species they were allowed to retain – overall he felt that the crew had not been adequately briefed.
The Judge ruled that the state’s case was proven. However, he did not believe that a criminal conviction would be appropriate in this case. He stated that if Mr Shane Curran paid €500 to a conservation group, chosen by the SFPA, he would strike out the case. The SFPA chose the Irish Elasmobranch Group (IEG), who will use the €500 to pay for the analysis of the tagging data from a recently tagged porbeagle, a prohibited species of shark. For information on the tagged porbeagle shark, named Alex, click here: http://www.irishelasmobranchgroup.org/?page_id=1005
Susan Steele, Board member with the SFPA said: ‘Despite the evidence and testimony provided by an SFPO as to the serious nature of this infringement in respect of protected species and the quantities found onboard, the Judge assessed the matter, and declared the State case as proven but directed that on payment of a charitable donation by Mr Shane Curran the case would be struck out. However, the Judge’s ruling that the State’s case was proven is important as it recognises that the common skate is a severely endangered species. The Common Skate is a prohibited species in all EU Waters, meaning that no vessel can land them in any EU Waters. The risk of extinction of these depleted species appears unavoidable without immediate and incisive conservation action. Skates are one of the few species where it is worthwhile for unintended catches to be put back in the water, that is, there is a reasonable chance of survival. The SFPA has produced the guide SFPA Common Skate Industry Advice Leaflet which should enable fishermen to identify the species.”