The CJEU has ruled that Irish legislation which penalises infringements of fisheries controls is not incompatible with EU legislation
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that Irish legislation which penalises infringements of fisheries controls is not incompatible with EU legislation.
The CJEU made the ruling in a case where a Dutch skipper challenged the forfeiture of his fishing vessels catch and fishing gear worth €399,000 when he was convicted of illegal fishing offences after his UK-registered vessel was intercepted by the LE Samuel Beckett on 11 February 2015 during a sea fisheries protection patrol.
The fishing vessel was escorted back to Cork Harbour where the skipper was charged by Gardaí and appeared before the Cork Criminal Court in June 2015. The Court imposed a fine of €500, along with the forfeiture of his catch worth €344,000 and fishing gear valued at €55,000, when it was found by the Court that the fishing vessel had been engaged in the banned activity of ‘high grading’ which involves selecting the best catch and discarding other smaller less profitable fish back into the sea.
The skipper challenged the Criminal Court’s ruling, and the case came before the Court of Appeal in Dublin who referred the case to the Luxembourg-based CJEU.
Lawyers for the Dutch skipper claimed that the penalties imposed by the Irish Court was disproportionate based on the reasoning that this was a first conviction for the skipper. They had also argued that the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 is incompatible with EU legislation and the regulation of fish exploitation is an exclusive role of the EU rather than national Governments.
The CJEU commented on the persistently high number of serious infringements of the rules of the EU Common Fisheries Policy within EU waters and said that this was largely due to the non-deterrent level of sanctions and the wide variation in penalties among many EU Member States.
The Court found EU regulations left the choice of sanctions to the discretion of Member State so long as they were in keeping with the seriousness of the breaches.
It claimed the forfeiture of illegal catches had the effect of depriving offenders of an undue economic benefit from their infringements which a fine alone could not ensure.
The court noted the maximum fine that the Irish Courts could impose was between €10,000 and €35,000 depending on the size of the vessel.
It observed that such fines on their own “would be neither effective nor dissuasive”.