Joint venture company Argos Pereira Ltd, which operates the trawler Argos Pereira, and its master, Roberto Carlos Martinez Sotelo, were fined a total of £20,500 in the Magistrate’s Court on Thursday for twice failing to deploy sufficient bird-scaring lines while fishing in Falklands’ waters.
Both defendants pleaded guilty to the charges that on March 3 and 5, they failed to deploy sufficient bird-scaring lines in breach of fishing licence conditions.
Crown Prosecutor Stuart Walker, told the court that the trawler was fishing and processing catches, on March 3, with an observer from the Department of Natural Resources on board. A few days earlier, the bird scaring device used by the ship, known as a Fixed Aerial Array, had been damaged in a storm and one of the arms removed. This meant one side of the ship did not have the bird scarers permanently deployed.
So, explained Mr Walker, when fish processing material was being discarded into the sea, or when nets were being deployed or brought in, the older ‘tori line’ method of bird scaring, needed to be put in place.
The Fisheries Observer recorded the events on video and this footage was played to the court. It was seen that about three minutes elapsed before the tori line was manually deployed.
On the second occasion, two days later, three Black Browed albatross were snagged in the fishing equipment being hauled in, resulting in the death of one of them.
Defending both the ship’s master and the company, Alison Inglis told the court that the breach of the regulations had been simply a regrettable oversight. It was a rare occurrence that the Fixed Aerial Array was not functioning, and the captain overlooked telling the crew to deploy the tori lines manually.
The fixed aerial array system, which had been developed by an engineer from the company and a fishery observer, is permanently deployed and so lessens bird mortality and improves crew safety. Ms Inglis said that even if the array had been deployed as normal, the albatross could still have been killed.
Both defendants deeply regretted the death of the albatross, and the incident had been wholly accidental, said Ms Inglis.
She told the court that both defendants were of good character with no previous convictions.
Senior Magistrate Martine Kushner agreed that the incidents were oversights and not deliberate breaches of the licence terms. It was not as if anyone was, “cocking a snook at the rules,” she said.
However, she regarded the incidents as serious and a matter of strict liability. And as the offence occurred twice, it showed that lessons hadn’t been learned from the original incident. Equipment breaks, Ms Kushner observed, so systems have to accommodate changed situations.
Ms Kushner told the court that word has to go out, to others in the industry, that such oversights can’t be allowed. Other vessels and companies have to review their procedures to prevent similar oversights happening.
Ms Kushner took into consideration the early guilty plea by the defendants and their previous good character, and fined the company £8,000 for the first offence and £10,000 for the second. The captain was fined £1,000 for the first offence and £1,500 for the second, plus court costs of £300.