ILLEGAL fishermen have been handed a record £8,000 on-the-spot fine by the Royal Navy.
Portsmouth-based fishery patrol ship HMS Mersey spotted a Dutch fishing vessel sailing 40 nautical miles off the Norfolk coast and sent over a boarding team to carry out a routine inspection of its nets.
The team, led by Marine Enforcement Officer Midshipman Phill Fordham, found the nets being used by FV Elizabeth were undersized.
The two cod-ends – the section of the net that catches and holds the fish – were too small, meaning that young fish and vulnerable species were unable to escape as the nets were dragged through the water.
Mersey contacted government agency the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) which gave the order to issue the trawler’s captain with a £8,000 penalty.
Mersey’s captain Lieutenant Commander Mark Anderson said: ‘This is a great result for my ship’s company and another example of the continued effectiveness of Royal Navy fishery protection vessels working to enforce important fisheries legislation in and around UK waters.’
Mersey is one of three ships that form the Portsmouth-based Fishery Protection Squadron.
Active since the 14th century, it is the oldest front-line squadron in the Royal Navy and boasts Battle of Trafalgar hero Admiral Lord Nelson among those who have served in it in the past.
The squadron was originally based on the coast of North America, Iceland and the UK, patrolling much of the North Atlantic against French and American incursions.
These days, the small ships – which have crews of 30 sailors – patrol UK and EU waters to inspect fishing vessels at sea and enforce fisheries regulations on behalf of the MMO.
The ships – HMS Mersey, HMS Severn and HMS Tyne – patrol an area that covers more than 80,000 square miles of sea and stretches up to 200 miles from the coastline.
The ships spend around 700 days at sea each year on patrols to net illegal fishing trawlers.
The ships are able to operate with helicopters and can also be used for counter-terror and anti-drug surveillance operations.