Dutch skipper in breach of fishing laws lodges appeal

The Dutch skipper of one of the world’s largest fishing trawlers, who was found guilty of breaching EU fishing regulations in Irish seas, has moved to appeal his conviction.

Gerrit Plug, aged 59, with an address in the Netherlands, was found guilty by a jury at Letterkenny Circuit Criminal Court of failing to record all estimated discards above 50kg, discarding species subject to quota and exceeding the maximum allowed space between bars in the water separators on dates between November 22 and November 25, 2013.

Plug pleaded not guilty to five counts, two of which were withdrawn for legal reasons. He was fined €105,000 by Judge John O’Hagan on March 27, 2015.

Opening an appeal against conviction yesterday, Plug’s barrister, Brendan Grehan, said this had been a criminal prosecution, therefore the ordinary criminal standards such as onus of proof and presumption of innocence applied.

The Annelies Ilena, formerly known as the Atlantic Dawn, is one of the largest shipping vessels in the world, the Court of Appeal was told.

In relation to the charge of discarding, Mr Grehan said the prosecution could prove there was a hole or drain in the vessel but couldn’t prove where it was going.

He said there was no evidence in fact that the “drain inexorably led to the sea”.

Regarding the failure to record all estimated discards, Mr Grehan said that the trial judge erred in conflating two regulations and two distinct log book offences.

In relation to the final count — that the maximum allowable space between bars in the water separators was exceeded — Mr Grehan said his client was charged with the offence as having been committed on November 22 but the inspection only took place two days later. He said the prosecution did not prove what the space was on November 22.

Counsel for the DPP, Sean Gillane, said there was ample evidence to show there had been discards.

There was evidence of a conveyor belt, pictorial evidence of a clogged “scupper” or drain full of fish, evidence of a hosing mechanism, evidence that the point and purpose of it was to discard fish as well as evidence from a Sea Fisheries Officer.

The DPP has also lodged an application for review of sentence on grounds that Plug’s penalty was “unduly lenient”.

Reserving judgement, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said the court was likely to require time with its decision.


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