A fisherman has been ordered to pay more than £100,000 he made from fishing illegally in Christchurch Harbour.
Shane Barton, 42, from Plymouth, was handed the Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation order totalling £104,147 at Bournemouth Crown Court on 17 June.
The order was the culmination of a multi-agency investigation following Barton’s arrest when he was caught fishing illegally in the harbour in May 2014.
Barton’s fishing nets and catch were seized and he was subsequently charged with possessing criminal property. He appeared before Bournemouth Crown Court on 23 June 2015 and pleaded guilty to the offence. He was handed a three month prison sentence suspended for 24 months and a 12 month supervision order.
The court heard that Barton already had numerous convictions for other fishing offences throughout the South West and for benefit fraud.
His previous offending enabled Dorset Police’s Economic Crime Unit to apply the criminal lifestyle assumptions under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
An investigation revealed that Barton made £104,147 during his illegal fishing exploits. The court was told that Barton’s current assets were valued at £5000 and he was ordered to pay this available sum within three months. If he fails to meet this target he will have to serve a three-month prison sentence after which time the money will still have to be paid.
As with all Proceeds of Crime confiscation orders the outstanding benefit figure is still owed and the case will be reviewed in future as and when Barton acquires further assets.
The nets Barton used were also forfeited by the court under separate legislation.
The investigation was led by officers from Dorset Police who were assisted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Environment Agency, Marine Management Organisation and the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.
Chief Inspector Martin Sims, of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “This case shows the value of police forces considering Proceeds of Crime Act legislation where the circumstances allow.
“This is by far the most significant confiscation order obtained of its type to date and, where it can be shown that offenders profit from criminal activity involving wildlife, the opportunity to confiscate their assets will be taken.”
The Environment Agency said it regularly patrols the area with partners to detect and deter illegal fishing.
Ian Jones, IFCA Deputy Chief Officer, said: “The finfish fishery in our district is very important to the local recreational and commercial fishing community.
“Minimum size legislation is an important management tool to protect finfish and the taking of undersized bass, mullet and other fish species undermines the purpose of such legislation and protection of juvenile stock. Southern IFCA is committed to protecting the fishery and by taking these offenders to court we aim to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry.
“The successful outcome of this matter is the end result of a collaborative approach to combatting criminal behaviour in Christchurch Harbour with our partnership agencies; Dorset Police and Environment Agency.“
In a statement, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) said: “The MMO welcomes the very strong message sent out by the courts in this case that illegal fishing activity is a serious crime which can lead to significant penalties.
“The MMO is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this investigation and will continue to seek out opportunities to work with other enforcement agencies to collaborate in ensuring those who seek to commit criminal offences in the marine area can be brought to justice.”
Anyone who sees any suspected illegal fishing is urged to report it to the Environment Agency on 0800 807060 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.