FISHING Company Georgia Seafoods Ltd was fined £15,000 in the Magistrates Court on Wednesday after a guilty plea was entered to a charge of fishing on the high seas without a valid licence.
The court heard that although an investigation had not been launched until November, the offence related to an incident on April 5, 2016 when the Falklands flagged, long liner Tronio under charter to the company was in transit for fishing grounds in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Crown Prosecutor Stuart Walker, said that while in the South East Atlantic Fishing Organisation (SEAFO) zone a sink line test had been conducted with baited hooks and 70kgs of fish had been caught.
The test had then been reported to the Falkland Islands Fishery Department
Mr Walker explained that before such a test, which is designed to ensure that lines sink at a rate which does not endanger certain marine life and that equipment is working efficiently, permission should be sought from the relevant authorities as the act constitutes fishing.
A Fisheries Observer on board the vessel had told the master, Antonio Paz Sampedro, that the test was no longer required, but he had chosen to continue with it.
Mr Sampedro is to appear in court on February 15.
Georgia Seafoods Ltd representative Stuart Wallace said in interview that the company directors were not aware the sink line test had taken place or that a licence was required to do so.
Mr Walker said it was not sufficient for the company to say it did not know and that there should have been a system in place. He added however that it was not a case where there had been any attempt to conceal that unlicensed fishing had taken place.
Defence lawyer Alison Inglis said that once the vessel had reached South Georgia waters the test would have been acceptable. She pointed out that the small quantity of fish had been of mixed species mainly Grenadier, which the crew had eaten and that a standard day fishing would result in around 3,000 kgs of catch.
The company had been operating for 12 years and the Tronio for nine years in South Georgia waters with Toothfish the prime target under the quota, said Ms Inglis.
The company based in Stanley was reputable, had shown itself to be in a robust financial position and brought significant economic benefit to the Islands, she said adding: “This is not a case of a neglectful company that lets the master get on with it.”
The test had clearly not been for commercial gain and the results had been emailed as is standard, said Ms Inglis, adding that nothing had been said by Fishery Department at the time of the notification.
The incident had not been investigated until some eight months later.
“The Government could have chosen to deal with it by way of official reprimand instead of prosecution,” said Ms Inglis who had described her clients as being “genuinely remorseful” and “very embarrassed.”
Senior Magistrate Martine Kushner said the irony of the matter was that the company was before the court for an action that it did not have to undertake.
It was however a matter of strict liability which the company had to plan for, ensuring that their masters know what is required in terms of licences.
There was now a clear blemish on their record which may have an affect on future licences, said Ms Kushner.
In fining the company £15,000, Ms Kushner said it was a first time offence and very much a matter of “not being on top of requirements and not having a system in place for the checks and balances.”