A LOCAL SKIPPER and the owner of his vessel were fined over £8,000 after admitting to dredging for scallops in the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC), where the practice is subject to a total ban.

Stretching from Ceibwr Bay in Pembrokeshire to Aberarth in Ceredigion and encompassing around 1000 km2 of sea, Cardigan Bay SAC protects the wildlife found in its waters. The area is afforded the highest level of protection due to its biodiversity.

Seaman Nicholas John Lyndon Howells, 30, of Bevelin Hall, Saundersfoot, was in charge of the Katie Claire – a boat belonging to S and P Trawlers Ltd. (SPT) - when Fisheries officers caught him scallop dredging in the SAC.

In legal terms, the owner of the boat is liable for any offences perpetrated by the skipper.

Howells and SPT pleaded guilty to breaching the Scallop Fishing (Wales) order 2010 and the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967, and admitted to not having all scallop dredges inboard, stowed and secured while not in use.

Both offences carry a maximum penalty of £50,000.

James Subbiani, prosecuting, told the court that at 3am on May 30, 2012, a Welsh Government Fisheries boat was patrolling the SAC when officers spotted a vessel engaged in a fishing operation. The officers decided to investigate. As they approached the vessel, its lights suddenly went out.

As they reached the Katie Claire, officers spotted dredgers full of scallops breaking the surface of the water. The boat’s GPS tracking log, which would have mapped its course, had been erased from the system. Forty-eight sacks full of scallops, worth approximately £3,041, were found on board.

Howells admitted he had been fishing illegally, but said he and the crew had “fallen asleep” and sailed into the SAC unaware.

Mr Stephen Climie, defending, said SPT had been operating for 18 years and maintained an entirely clean record. Mr Climie said Howells accepted what he had told the officers when they boarded the Katie Claire was “not true”.

“He knew how strictly the company directors view matters of this nature,” said Mr Climie. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, he panicked. His reason for going into the SAC was he had been on a four day fishing trip. It hadn’t been a good trip, and he took a chance. He has asked for me to apologise to all concerned.”

Mr Climie said Howells still worked for the company but had been de-moted. He added the company had since invested £5,000 in new software that prevented erasure of GPS information.

Magistrates fined Howells £3,582.40, to include half the cost of the catch, court costs and a victim surcharge. They ordered SPT to pay £4,620.