THE MASTER and owners of a fishing boat have been ordered to pay more than £12,000 after pleading guilty to illegal fishing in Lyme Bay.

Leigh Shields and SRR Trawlers Ltd pleaded guilty at Torbay Magistrates Court to eight charges relating to a trip in December 2014 within the Lyme Bay and Torbay Special Area of Conservation.

The trip saw the vessel Harm Johannes involved in activity including scallop dredging.

The prosecution resulted from a partnership between the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) and the Marine Management Organisation.

The IFCA’s bylaws ensure that the Lyme Bay and Torbay Special Area of Conservation is protected and prohibit damaging fishing activity on the reefs and corals within the area.

The area is designated protected as it contains an array of nationally and internationally-rare species and habitats which include pink sea fans, sunset and southern cup corals and fragile sponge communities.

Robert Clark, from the Southern IFCA said he hoped the conviction sends a message to others.

He said: “The IFCA is committed to protecting the fishery to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry.

“The IFCA bylaws protect an internationally-important marine area as well as a vibrant coastal fishing community. By taking these offenders to court we aim to send a clear message that damaging activity in Lyme Bay will not be tolerated.Through our action we aim to support a sustainable local fishery that relies on the productivity of the protected habitats in Lyme Bay.”

The boat involved was 25.4 metres in length and under bylaws was too big to fish within six nautical miles of the coast.

These rules are in place to protect the marine environment and also the coastal fisheries in the area.

Dave Sales of the Bridport and District Fisherman’s Association welcomed the decision.

He said: “The trawlers and scallopers that work in the area stick to the rules that protect the site. The actions of irresponsible individuals threaten the local fishing community. We welcome the work of the local IFCA in achieving this outcome.”

The Blue Marine Foundation has established a Lyme Bay working group by bringing together fishermen and scientists to agree a sustainable level of fishing and an overall management plan for the area.

Charles Closer, from the foundation, said: “The Lyme Bay reef are an important habitat for corals and sea fans and hand-dived and potted shellfish and this habitat has been recovering well after being dredged a few years ago.”

The master and owners also pleaded guilty to failure to maintain in operation an Automatic Identification System, a system required on vessels of its size which monitors its movement.

As master of the vessels, Shields was fined £800 and ordered to pay costs of £1,600 with a victim surcharge of £120. SRR Trawlers Ltd was fined £3,200 with costs of £6,400 and a victim surcharge of £120.