The skipper of the world’s largest trawler, branded King of the Seas by a judge, has been convicted of breaching EU fishing regulations on board a vessel that’s half a metre longer than the Croke Park pitch.
Two of the five charges against Gerrit Plug, skipper of the 144.6 metres long Annelies Ilena, were rejected on legal grounds by Judge John O’Hagan at the end of the prosecution case at Donegal Circuit Court.
The jury found Plug guilty by 11-1 majority verdicts of failing to record discarded fish and discarding species of fish subject to quota.
They returned a unanimous verdict that the vessel exceeded the maximum space between bars on a device which filters unwanted from wanted fish.
Plug, who the court heard was at sea for 39 years without conviction in any country, as fined a total of €105,000.
Judge John O’Hagan, who did not order forfeiture of the vessel’s fishing gear, said: “This is a very large trawler. As a result of being king of the seas there is a specific obligation to ensure that all the gear is correct as an example to other trawlers. It has been found wanting!”
In a highly complex three-day trial, the prosecution claimed that the Annelies Ilena – in a “ongoing, systematic practice” - was in breach of EU regulations off Tory Island and had illegal equipment which was grading the fish to increase the value of the catch and discarding fish straight back out to sea which should have been kept.
Suspicions of Irish Navy and sea fisheries protection officers were raised when they saw large sea-birds apparently eating fish immediately behind the super-trawler.
Judge John O’Hagan told the jury that they had to decide between rival suggestions by the prosecution and defence that Killybegs-based Sea Fisheries Protection officer John Kederman was telling the truth about what he found or that there was a flavour some of his evidence was less than fair.
The judge explained that the regulations were all part of an EU mechanism to conserve stocks and make sure they were available for all fishermen,
Mr Plug, the 58-year-old Dutch national skipper of the Annelies Ilena, had denied all offences which were committed on November 22, 2013.
The Dutch-owned Annelise Ilena, which has a crew of 60 including 13 Irish, was formerly the Atlantic Dawn when it operated out of Killybegs.