The skipper of a scallop dredger registered in Scotland has been fined £1,000 after being caught fishing in territorial waters off Guernsey.
Stephen Clasper, 54, is master of the Inverness-registered Georgia Dawn, which came to the attention of Guernsey’s Sea Fisheries authorities on the 18 June 2019, when detected on the wrong side of the island’s territorial limit to the west.
According to a local newspaper, a sea fisheries protection vessel called the Leopardess was launched and on reaching Georgia Dawn it could see fishing wires as the boat recovered its scallop dredgers.
Officers boarded Georgia Dawn and it was established that the boat was 0.87 nautical miles inside the limit. When stopped, the boat had gathered some two tonnes of scallops valued around £3,500.
The boat was escorted back to St Peter Port Harbour and Clasper appeared in court in the afternoon, when he admitted the offence.
The Guernsey Press reported that Clasper said he had no intention of fishing in local waters and had been relying on two navigation plotters that had, it turned out, given him the wrong position.
The judge said he accepted that Clasper made an honest mistake but added the skipper should have known he was close to Bailiwick waters, which belong to Guernsey, and taken more care as it was likely his boat might drift.
The judge gave Clasper credit for his guilty plea and said he was not going to impose a severe fine.
The Ferret reported in February 2019 that “suspicious” scallop dredging had taken place in the Sound of Mull. In December 2018 we published video footage suggesting that the seabed under Loch Gairloch in Wester Ross had been damaged by dredging.
Commenting on the case, Nick Underdown of campaign group, Open Seas, said the incident shows the “stark contrast between the approach taken by Scotland and other parts of the UK to fisheries enforcement”.
“It is unimaginable that a skipper in Scotland would be escorted to port and be up in court the following morning following illegal or suspicious activity inside closed areas,” he added.
“Similar events in Scotland are dismissed or result in only a slap on the wrist. Scotland needs a well-resourced marine patrol force that is prepared to take swift action in situations like this.”
Underdown argued that fishing offences are not “victimless crimes” and can involve lasting environmental damage, or deprive other fishermen from legitimate business.
He added: “The Scottish Government promised vessel tracking would be established in August 2018 to address this issue, and eliminate grey areas around the supply of seafood, but nearly a year later this has yet to be delivered. Until this is sorted out, the management of Scotland’s inshore will remain a well-branded shambles and the fisheries a shadow of their former, productive health.”
Georgia Dawn is a registered member of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association whose chief executive is Mike Park OBE.
He said no action would be taken against Clasper, pointing that the judge accepted he made an honest mistake. “I am clear that this was a mistake by a skipper that had only recently taken full time charge of a vessel. The judge in setting a fine of £1,000 similarly accepted that this was an unintended error,” Park said.
“The skipper believed he was operating outside of the 12 mile limit. Recognising the facts around this case, we do not intend to take any action against the vessel given that it is clear that there was no wilful intent. As an association we remain committed to sustainable harvesting and full compliance with the law, that is why we have called for closer monitoring of all scallop vessels irrespective of size.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The offence in Guernsey involved a vessel effectively fishing in territorial waters without authorisation. The last two comparable offences detected by Marine Scotland Compliance resulted in vessels being detained and fixed penalties of £4,000 (in 2019) and £10,000 (in 2018) being paid.”