Fifty two boxes of a critically endangered species of fish were found during a search of a Spanish trawler at Castletownbere and those fish were recorded in the logbook of the catch under a different name.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said at Cork Circuit Criminal Court that it was a serious matter and he imposed a €20,000 fine on the skipper of the trawler.
As a consequence of the conviction, the full catch of different kinds of fish — including the endangered blue skate — valued €30,000 were confiscated. Fishing nets and gear worth another €30,000 were also confiscated.
The total cost to the defendant, Manuel Juncal Juncal, master of the Nova Alborada, was, therefore, €80,000.
Gary Hannon, inspector with the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, said catching blue skate was prohibited for the past ten years because the species is critically endangered.
Mr Gannon said the main features distinguishing the blue skate from the long-nosed skate was the snout and tail and he said they had been removed from the 3,000 kilogrammes of the fish that were found in the 52 crates on board the trawler. However, he said that it was still possible to identify the fish and this had been done on the day of the boarding on July 9.
The defendant subsequently pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to fill in correctly the catch in his logbook of operations at Dinish Island pier, Castletownbere, on July 9.
Defence solicitor, Dermot Conway, said there was no financial advantage in catching the blue skate. He said the 49-year-old had been fishing for 22 years without any conviction. Mr Conway said the accused accepted that he was responsible for what was put in the logbook but felt it was difficult to tell those types of skate apart.
Mr Hannon said those in the fishing industry would be able to tell them apart.
Judge Ó Donnabháin said the manner in which the catch was recorded was deliberate and that an experienced fisherman would have known it was the prohibited fish. The judge said the recording of the catch was a serious aggravating factor and that it was a serious offence.