The skipper of a fishing boat who plundered a protected area of Cardigan Bay has been fined just three per cent of what local magistrates could have ordered him to pay.
Mark Powell, aged 44, ran “the most modern, most sophisticated, purpose built, state of the art” scallop dredger Golden Fleece2 into the bay on at least 14 occasions and cleaned out scallops worth £588,317 of which £428,289 worth had been caught illegally.
He admitted 14 offences of fishing in a protected area and 14 of failing to report his catch.
Swansea crown court heard that magistrates in Haverfordwest had sent the case to the crown court because their sentencing powers were too limited.
Judge Huw Davies said he could not “get my head round” the decision as they could have fined him up to £50,000 for each of the 28 offences.
James Subbiani, prosecuting, said he was “in difficulty entering the minds of the magistrates.”
Judge Davies said he had to bear in mind the totality of the sentence and Powell’s ability to pay.
As Oliver Powell (no relation), representing Powell and three of his relatives, progressed his mitigation, Mr Subbiani interjected to say that there had been discussions prior to the prosecution with Powell’s legal team, and it had been agreed that the fine should match the value of the catch, namely £428,289, although he could be fined more.
Oliver Powell said there had been a “misunderstanding.”
There was no dispute about the value of the scallops dredged up illegally, he added, but Mark Powell could not pay more than £50,000 a year.
Powell was fined a total of £42,000 and ordered to pay £8,000 in prosecution costs. He was given 12 months to pay.
Judge Davies said he would not confiscate the Golden Fleece 2.
Powell’s father Clinton Powell, aged 77, his mother Andrea, 72, and his wife Lisa, 40, each admitted one offence of illegal scallop dredging on the basis that they were “silent” part owners of the vessel.
They were each fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £250 in costs. They offered to pay immediately by credit card.
Mr Subbiani said all of Cardigan Bay, apart from an area known as Kaiser’s Box, named after a professor at Bangor University, was a no go area for scallop fishing boats in a bid to conserve and develop stocks following a “bonanza” season.
Despite that, “a lot of unauthorised dredging” had been going on and a letter from the Welsh Government had been handed out asking for information about who was responsible.
On March 20, 2012, HMS Mersey happened to spot the Golden Fleece 2 inside the prohibited area and boarded the vessel.
Mr Subbiani said the equivalent of an aircraft’s transponder had been deliberately turned off in a bid to conceal the real location of the Golden Fleece 2. But there were other devices which enabled the authorities to build a pattern of the ship’s fishing activities.
On trip one of the 2011/2012 scallop fishing season the Golden Fleece 2 had spent just 2.65% of its time inside the prohibited zone. That increased to 23.1% on trip two and shot up to 98.99% during trip five.
On average, said Mr Subbiani, the Golden Fleece 2 had spent 72.25% of its time dragging up scallops from within the protected area.
Judge Davies said Mark Powell had known “the waters of Cardigan Bay” very well and was fully aware of the prohibited area.
But he accepted that he had been “stunned” to be accused when others were doing the same thing.
But the fact that others were also cheating the rules did not excuse his offending.