The Penalty in 2015 fishing trial in Cork was too severe, Court of Appeal decides, despite Irish Naval Commander reporting evidence of onboard ‘high grading’ systems
As reported by Independent.ie last Wednesday (July 26th 2023) a substantial penalty for a breach of fishing regulations in Irish waters, in which the skipper of a Dutch factory ship had his catch and gear worth almost €400,000 confiscated, has been quashed by the Court of Appeal.
Klass Dirk Meijvogel, with an address at Jan Tooropstraut, 9 Katwick in Netherlands, had been convicted in 2015 of a technical fishing offence relating to his captaincy of the Wiron 5 on February 11, 2015.
In a lengthy judgment delivered on Tuesday, the three-judge appeal court found that the decision to confiscate the ship's entire catch, worth €344,960, and gear worth €55,000, “may have been disproportionate”.
Independent.ie reports that the court found that the judge who sanctioned the confiscation was led into error because counsel for the prosecution and a solicitor for the defendant told him that he had no discretion in the matter and had to order the forfeit of the catch and fishing gear.
Mr Meijvogel had pleaded not guilty to the single fishing offence, but was found guilty by a 10-2 majority jury verdict following a trial at Cork Circuit Criminal Court in 2015.
The trial heard that the Wiron 5 vessel, of which Meijvogel was captain, was boarded by the Irish Naval Service on the date in question.
Based on the boarding party’s observations, the Lieutenant Commander of the LE Samuel Beckett formed the view that the vessel, which had been catching and processing pelagic fish, was engaged in ‘high grading’ i.e selecting the best fish from the catch and returning certain fish to the sea.
EU regulations introduced in 2015 made it illegal to discharge or return pelagic fish such as herring, mackerel or horse mackerel to the sea.
The boarding party concluded that the vessel contained a grading machine and that there was a chute from the grading machine and it was alleged that the equipment was not installed or located in such a way as to ensure the immediate freezing of fish or to prevent the return of marine organisms to the sea.
Following the conviction, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin made confiscation orders worth €344,960 (value of the catch) and €55,000 (the value of gear) on July 27, 2015, but now having quashed the original penalty imposed, the Court of Appeal will later hear arguments from both sides as to what the appropriate and proportionate penalty should be.
* On behalf of the IFSA I have only one question - when was the last time that an Irish registered vessel ever had a conviction (rightly or wrongly) quashed because it was deemed ‘too severe’?
Cormac Burke, Chairman, IFSA