Trawler captain dumped fish to save ship

A judge has stepped in to settle allegations of misreporting catch by a fishing company, after a trawler captain had to dump 30,000 kg of Southern Blue Whiting to save his ship.

Independent Fisheries Ltd pleaded guilty to two charges in the Christchurch District Court but the judge immediately discharged the company without conviction and declined to make any forfeiture order about the trawler.

He did order the company to pay $2500 for the Ministry of Primary Industries’ costs in the case.

Judge David Saunders had given a sentencing indication in the case. Such indications cannot be reported until cases are completed.

In this case, a different judge, John Macdonald, took the company’s guilty pleas and imposed the proposed sentence on Judge Saunders’ behalf and aso ordered that the records of the indication hearing be issued to the media.

Independent Fisheries was charged with making a false or misleading statement in trawl and catch records filed under the Fisheries Act, and failing to declare the accidental loss of the estimated 30,000 kg of fish. One offence was said to have been committed at sea and the other at Lyttelton when the ship docked.

The incident took place on September 24, 2017, when the vessel Mainstream was trying to land its catch.

Judge Saunders said: “The captain was faced with a real and potentially life-threatening event when the broken trawl warp (towing line) became entangled around the propeller of the ship.”

The captain dumped the catch, and the trawler survived the crisis and reached Lyttelton, but then the discussion began over how the catch should be reported.

The company was prosecuted over the documentation, but Judge Saunders said: “There was certainly no intention to be deceitful about the circumstances of the day or to avoid disclosing the loss of the catch which occurred.”

The company had more enough fishing quota and was not trying to take advantage of the loss of catch for financial advantage. Counsel for the company said it was “unintentional offending”.

Judge Saunders said Independent Fisheries had no prior convictions under the Fisheries Act “and is jealously proud of its 60-year history and strong compliance policy”.

Judge Saunders decided that the gravity of the offending was low and justified a discharge without conviction. He also found there were special reasons which would justify no forfeiture order for the vessel being made.

MPI had indicated that if a forfeiture order was made it would allow “relief” if the company paid a redemption fee equivalent to the cost of the advertising involved.