A Belgian beam trawler which used ‘blinders’ – illegal linings in her trawl nets – to catch illegal undersized fish which were then kept, was forced to tie up four days while the skipper and owner faced prosecution by the Marine and Fisheries Agency. 

The skipper and owner of Belgian Beam trawler De Marie Louise both pleaded guilty to fishing illegally in the North Sea , at  North Shields  Magistrates court on Tuesday May 8th.

The court was told the 38 metre De Marie Louise had been boarded  by fishery protection officers from HMS Severn late on Friday night,  May 4th 2007,  15 miles off the Yorkshire coast.

The Navy boarding party found that the trawler was using illegal ‘blinders’ 
–  false lining attachments inside her trawl nets –  which prevent immature and under-sized fish escaping.

They also discovered over 4,000 illegal under-sized sole, headed skinned and frozen,  which had been retained.  Catches of plaice and skate had been under recorded in the ship’s fishing log book.

The  De Marie Louise was  detained into North Shields on Saturday May 5th for  further investigation.

At North Shield Magistrates, on Tuesday May 8th,   skipper, Marc Morbee
(cor), and owners BVBA Rederij De Marie (cor), both of Belgium, were fined £5,000 each  for retaining undersized sole;  £3,000 each for the illegal net attachments;£150 each for under recording plaice and skate.  They were also ordered to pay costs of  £2,330 each, making a total in fines and costs of £20, 960.

The court ordered that 245 kg under-size sole catch be forfeited along with the vessel’s illegal blinders and the cod ends of the trawl nets.

After the case, a senior MFA Fisheries Inspector said :  “This was a clear and blatant case of cheating the fishing conservation rules.  Legal net sizes are in force to protect fish stocks by letting immature escape so they can re-produce. No fish escapes when illegal blinders are put inside the nets.

“Commanding officer of HMS Severn Lt Cdr Rex Cox , and his crew, should be congratulated for a stealth boarding at night which paid dividends.

“The MFA will not hesitate to take robust prosecution action in cases where fishermen are abusing the rules which are designed to protect fish stocks and ultimately their livelihoods.”