An Angus sheriff has told Scotland’s largest salmon netting company it should expect to be fined for a series of breaches of fisheries legislation.
Usan Salmon Fisheries Ltd has admitted nine charges in relation to failing to remove leaders, which help guide salmon into nets at sea, before the weekly close time at 6pm on Friday.
Under the Salmon Fisheries Scotland Act the leaders can then be reinstated at 6am on Mondays.
The firm admitted three breaches in Angus during August 2013, four breaches in Angus during July and August 2014 and two breaches in Aberdeenshire in August 2014.
The company also admitted taking fish 45 minutes after the close time on July 25 at Boddin, near Montrose.
A landmark proof of mitigation hearing previously heard evidence from director George Pullar that on each occasion leaders were not removed it was because of dangerous conditions.
Summing up the defence’s position at Forfar Sheriff Court yesterday, solicitor Hamish Watt said the company faced a “conflict” between complying with the Salmon Fisheries Scotland Act and health and safety legislation.
“They take the view that the health and safety legislation has to get priority,” he said.
“They obviously want to do right by the Fisheries Act but nevertheless felt the duty to human life was of greater importance.”
The court heard that when the company’s employees went back to nets which had been in operation over a weekend, they kept the fish that the nets contained.
Mr Watt said it was impossible to calculate any gain the company could have made by the nets being in operation during the weekend and that the crown required to submit “better evidence than speculation” about how many fish might have been illegally caught.
Sheriff Pino Di Emidio said the legislation dictates that if the company is unable to take the leader out before the close time then there is a responsibility to take it out at the earliest opportunity.
“You have nine charges but in none of the charges is it suggested that the leaders were removed later,” the sheriff said.
“That would have been a significant mitigating factor.”
Mr Watt said the directors’ position was that during the weekends in question it wasn’t safe to go to sea.
The sheriff said the evidence indicated that in one case the sea was calm at the leaders’ location but that it was the sea state at the company’s base at Usan which prevented the company’s boat being launched.
He said the company’s decision to “operate to that extent from the one base” limited their mitigation.
He also questioned why the company didn’t consider the removal of the leaders earlier in the week, stating that George Pullar’s evidence suggested this operation wasn’t considered until Friday mornings.
Mr Watt replied: “They are clearly checking the weather all the time. Sometimes they will be caught out. They have to make a reasonable attempt to be commercially active.”
Mr Watt added that Mr Pullar was working with the Scottish Government to try to have the legislation regarding the close time changed to companies having a kill licence.
He invited the sheriff to admonish the company on all the charges relating to failing to remove the leaders.
Procurator fiscal Tom Dysart of the Crown Office’s wildlife and environment unit said: “Part of the argument from the accused is that recent health and safety requirements prevent compliance with the weekly close time.
“I submit that all of the evidence points to the company working in whatever way suits its commercial interests.
“It’s incumbent on operators to comply with both sets of requirements even if that impacts on fishing opportunity.”
Sheriff Di Emidio deferred sentence until August 20 for the firm’s accounts to be produced.
He said: “There is a maximum penalty of £2,500 per offence. You can take it that I’m not going to admonish the company on all these charges.”