Fish dumping charges proved against Korean officers

Court House-Sept-2013-05Fish dumping charges have been found proved against three officers of the South Korean trawler Melilla 201 after a two-week hearing that none of the defendants attended in the Christchurch District Court.

Judge Alistair Garland issued his decision finding the three men guilty, a few days after the end of the hearing where the Crown called formal proof evidence to make the case.

It involves the 73m factory stern trawler which was operating out of Lyttelton but is now tied up at the Dunedin wharf. It was crewed by 12 Korean officers and 42 Indonesian crew. The Korean owners had a charter agreement with UFL Charters Ltd, a New Zealand registered company based in Christchurch and part of the United Fisheries Group.

Kyung Kim, Soon Hong, and Il Son, were all found guilty of charges of unlawfully dumping fish at sea in breach of the quota management system, and Hong was also found guilty of making false or misleading trawl catch returns. Kim admitted that charge.

Evidence from five Indonesian crew was recorded on video in advance and played to the two-week formal proof hearing last month before Christchurch District Court Judge Alistair Garland. None of the three defendants appeared or had defence counsel at the hearing, but Kim’s wife did attend, explaining that her husband had only recently learned of the hearing and was working on a fishing boat at sea near the Falkland Islands.

Kim was the ship’s master. He had resident status in New Zealand. Hong was the vice captain, and Son was the factory manager.

The Crown alleged the offending occurred between July and October 2011 when the vessel was fishing along the South Island’s West Coast on one trip, and the off the east, south, and West Coast on the second trip. It was targeting barracuda, hoki, blue warehou, silver warehou, and ling.

The Indonesian witnesses reported that small and damaged fish had been discarded during the trips. The fish is of lesser value but is meant to be landed and reported as part of the quota system. Discarding and not reporting the fish means that higher value fish is caught to replace it.

The formal proof hearing heard evidence from 13 witnesses including crew, fisheries officers, and analysts.

Judge Garland found that the officers were guilty of discarding small and damaged quota fish, in particular hoki and barracuda.

Larger catches mean that soft fleshed fish are prone to damage because the catches take longer to process and the fish can spoil and be difficult to process. “The fishing practices of the vessel were inevitably going to result in a considerable quantity of low grade quota fish,” said the judge.

Sentencing has been set for next Friday.

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