Commercial fishers fined for breaching shellfish permit conditions

On Thursday 8 February at the Quayside Law Courts in Newcastle, Magistrates sentenced three members of the Armstrong family from Blyth and Newbiggin by the Sea, for breaching key local fisheries legislation that manages the pot fishery along the Northumberland coast.

The prosecution related to an incident in July 2023 when fishing pots operated by the Armstrong family were inspected at sea and found to be missing or have incorrect identification tags attached.

The case was brought against David Armstrong Snr, David Armstrong Jnr, and Christopher Armstrong by the Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA), which manages the inshore fishery along the North Tyneside and Northumbrian coastline.

During the hearing, Elizabeth Rowley of Andrew Jackson Solicitors, prosecuting on behalf of the Authority informed the court that on the 31 July 2023, enforcement officers from NIFCA had undertaken routine inspections of fishing pots set off Whitley Bay aboard the Authority’s patrol vessel the St Aidan.

The officers inspected a fleet of 40 pots whose surface markers stated they were set from the Wendy Patricia BH22, a potting vessel owned and operated by the Armstrong family. Upon inspection, the individual pots either had no mandatory NIFCA pot tags attached or they displayed tags allocated to another vessel owned by the family.

The three members of the Armstrong family represented by Richard Arnot of Ward Hadaway Solicitors pleaded guilty to the same offence, that they had: ‘Fished for specified shellfish using pots without tags issued to the commercial permit holder and named vessel affixed, contrary to NIFCA’s byelaw 4. Crustacea and Mollusc Permitting and Pot Limitation.’

The court determined that the actions of the defendants were negligent but did not cause harm to the fishery. To Christopher Armstrong and David Armstrong Snr the owners of the Wendy Patricia BH22, the court individually imposed financial penalties of a £433.00 fine, a victim surcharge of £173.00 and awarded costs of £1,300. David Armstrong Jnr as master of the vessel was ordered to pay a £300.00 fine, a victim surcharge of £120.00 and to pay £780.00 in costs. In total £5,012.00 is to be paid by the family.

Nick Weir, lead enforcement officer for NIFCA, said: “The Authority is pleased the court recognised the importance of NIFCA byelaws. Pot limitation is a fundamental method of managing the fishing effort within the NIFCA district to ensure that stocks of key species are only caught at a sustainable level. All pots set within the district for both commercial and recreational fishers must be affixed with NIFCA tags which are issued under our permit schemes.

“Fishing in Northumberland is an economically sensitive activity and of great social importance to our local heritage and character. Our byelaws in conjunction with national legislation, balance the social, environmental, and economic needs of our stakeholders to promote healthy seas, sustainable fishing, and a viable industry.”