Master Pleads Guilty To Illegal Fishing In BIOT

The BIOT Administration, supported by Blue Belt programme, MRAG and European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) recently led a multi-agency response to intercept, detain and prosecute a Sri Lankan fishing vessel which was fishing illegally within the BIOT Marine Protected Area (MPA). To ensure the future protection of BIOT’s unique environment a 640,000 km² ‘no-take’ (where all commercial fishing and extractive activities are prohibited) MPA was declared on 1 April 2010.

Acting on intelligence provided by the Blue Belt programme and EMSA, the vessel was apprehended by the BIOT Patrol Vessel and boarded by the Senior Fisheries Protection Officer. The vessel was detained and a full police investigation was completed. At the final court hearing on 30 August, the Master of the vessel pleaded guilty to all charges and was fined £15,000 for illegal fishing, £7,500 for the possession of illegal gear and ordered to pay £50 costs by the Magistrate. The forfeiture of all fishing gear was also ordered. All fines and costs are due to be paid within 28 days.

The catch found onboard the vessel weighed four tonnes and included many shark species declared as vulnerable by the IUCN: silky, hammerhead and Mako. Yellowfin tuna which is classified as overfished by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) was also found onboard. The catch was destroyed following an order from the Magistrate.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) can cause severe damage to vulnerable habitats, including through the use of destructive or unselective gear; the capture of protected, endangered and threatened species such as turtles, sharks, seabirds and marine mammals; and the discarding of non-target and low-grade fish. This creates potential ecological, social and economic impacts throughout the Indian Ocean region.

The BIOT Administration is committed to tackling IUU fishing and has sought co-operation from the vessel’s flag state, Sri Lanka to take further action against this vessel. With the support of the UK Government’s Blue Belt Programme, BIOT is continuing to increase its surveillance of the MPA and trial new technologies to help tackle the challenge of enforcing large MPAs.