£9,000 in fines were imposed by Chichester Magistrates on Wednesday 30th November on two vessel skippers operating trawlers inside the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee District.

The fishermen pleaded guilty to three offences off Littlehampton relating to local fisheries legislation which protect inshore fish stocks of black bream and sea bass.

The prosecutions which related to offences in April and May this year were the latest in a series of prosecutions undertaken by the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee against the skippers of the pair trawlers L’Ecume II J158 Jersey registered and the Catherine Annie LT 45 UK registered.

In 2001 and 2002 prosecutions by the authority involving the same vessels and owners resulted in successful prosecutions and significant fines amounting to several thousand pounds.

On the 30th November Mr. Michael Michieli skipper and owner of the vessel L’ Ecume II J158 pleaded guilty to the offences of fishing inside the Committee’s 3 mile limits with a vessel over 14 metres in length on the 14th & 20 April and the 10th May this year.

Mr Michieli was fined £4,500 and ordered to pay £2,250 towards the prosecutions costs.

Mr. David Waldron skipper and owner of the vessel Catherine Annie LT 45, also pleaded guilty to the same offences.

Mr Waldron was fined £4,500, and ordered to pay a further £2,250 towards the prosecution costs.

During inspections in the spring both vessels were found to have substantial quantities of bream on board.

In convicting these fishermen the Magistrate sent a clear message that illegal fishing will not be tolerated.

Black Bream are particularly susceptible to over exploitation and exhibit some very interesting biological traits.

In the Spring thousands and thousands of fish migrate to the shallow waters off the Sussex shores to spawn.

Adult male Bream excavate ‘nests’, depressions in the gravel, in an attempt to attract awaiting shoals of females: a female will then lay her eggs in the most ‘attractive’ nest.

Vast areas off the coast are covered in bream nests, so much so that the seabed can be likened to the craters seen on the moon!

The male bream, with a nest of eggs, will spend weeks tending to the clutch until they finally hatch. Interestingly for the first few years of their life young black bream are neither male nor female, but at around 20cm (2-3 years) they become male then and years later they become female!

Given the vulnerability of this species it is important harmful fishing practices are restricted by law, and that these laws are vigorously upheld.

Following today’s court proceedings the Committee’s Chief Fishery Officer commented that:

“It is regrettable when fisheries management results in the prosecution of individuals however it is clear that in this instance both individuals have shown a complete disregard for inshore regulations for financial gain, these were repeat offences and would have caused significant disturbance to spawning grounds.

The Sea Fisheries Committee are committed to managing sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries and the protection of inshore stocks during critical periods.

Clearly some elements of the commercial industry need to act far more responsibly if they want the support of the public.

We have local fisheries at Hastings which have recently obtained accreditation for their environmental sustainability which shows what can be achieved.

The local authorities understand the value of the inshore marine environment and the need to protect it whilst allowing sustainable commercial fisheries to develop.

The inshore management regulations for fisheries mean that much of the inshore region off Sussex could be regarded a Marine Protected Area and the Committee’s efforts to control certain fishing activities are extremely important.

I’m sure everyone locally values a healthy marine environment and I hope this demonstrates the efforts made to protect our inshore waters.

I am pleased that the time and effort made by our fishery officers to secure evidence at sea have resulted in this outcome.

The Sea Fisheries Committee invested in a new fisheries patrol vessel in 2004 and ‘Watchful’s’ role was central to obtaining the evidence and therefore securing the convictions”