June 2023: Prosecution for electro-fishing

Posted on 26th June 2023

Huge victory for Cornwall IFCA closing down a significant criminal enterprise illegally electro-fishing in Cornish inshore waters. With initial fines and costs of over £28,750 with the sentence of the main defendant to come later.

Over the past few years, Cornwall IFCA has been undertaking a prosecution against Mr Daniel Bracken Turner (Age 41, from Wittersham, Kent) his company, Daniel Turner Marine & Forestry Ltd, and a large number of other individuals engaged in the illegal use of electrical current to fish for razor clams close to the coast of Cornwall.

On the 18th of May 2023, after more than three years of court proceedings, the main defendant Mr Turner and his company finally pleaded guilty to the charges, joining nine other defendants who over recent months had changed their initial not guilty pleas, to guilty pleas. A further suspect who had to be dealt with separately, immediately pleaded guilty in the Court in 2021.  On the 26 June 2023 at Truro Crown Court, Judge Carr handed down sentences to the majority of defendants with the two sentences for Turner and his company being delayed until September, allowing time for their financial details to be presented to the Court in preparation for the potential confiscation of assets gained by criminality under the proceeds of crime act 2002.

The defendants sentenced on the 26 June 2023 were:

Luke Anderson (44) of St. Margarets–at-Cliffe, Kent: Total fines of £3,000, plus costs of £3,000;

Marc Drew (50) of Mousehole, Cornwall Fine £3,500 Costs £2,000

Graeme Etheridge (61) of Paul, Cornwall: Fines of £3,750 and costs of £2,500

David Thomasson (52) of Bodmin, Cornwall Fines of £5,500 and costs of £2,500

Ross Waters (47) OF St Buryan, Cornwall Fine £1,000 costs of £2,000

A further defendant, Jake Richardson (26) of Bedminster, Dorset was ordered to attend court for sentencing but did not attend and so an arrest warrant for him has been issued

Previously other defendants had pleaded guilty and received conditional discharges

Steven Corcoran (46) of Motherwell, Scotland

Simon Tester (52) of Canterbury, Kent

This is by far the largest and most complex investigation Cornwall IFCA has ever undertaken. It has effectively brought an end to a far-reaching criminal enterprise involving many people who had profited from illegal fishing in the Cornwall IFCA district. The actions taken by the authority and the fines so far handed down by the Court, plus the forthcoming sentences for Turner and his company should send a clear message that illegal fishing activities will be fully investigated and where there is clear evidence of intentional wrongdoing, it will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Electro-fishing for razor clams involves the use of electricity generators connected via a cable to  an array of metal electrodes towed behind the boat to deliver an electrical current to the seabed. This causes razor clams to react by popping up out of their burrows. A diver following the vessel is then able to gather the animals by hand in large numbers.  This method of fishing is far more efficient than hand-gathering alone and can substantially deplete razor clams in an area very quickly. The use of electrical current for fishing is prohibited in EU and UK waters, under EU legislation which has been adopted by the UK.

This extensive Cornwall IFCA investigation involved five vessels which were used for electro-fishing, including one which was bought and used by the then serving Cornwall IFCA member, David Thomasson.  Incredibly, on the day before a court appearance for fishing from one of Mr Turners vessels, he was discovered electro-fishing again with another of the defendants having bought their own vessel, and equipment, and set up their own company. Mr Thomason was an MMO appointed member of the Committee that oversees Cornwall IFCA. He was immediately suspended for the Authority and is no longer a serving member.

Information was gathered from many organisations in order to determine the extent of the illegal fishing, which in turn led Cornwall IFCA to also identify offences in respect of fishing vessel licenses, food hygiene regulations, crew and vessel safety regulations and the transfer of criminal property.  It was in the public interest to prosecute these additional offences at the same time as the fishing offences. The authority was able to evidence that electro-fishing had taken place from its extensive video recordings made by officers watching from the shore and through inspections of vessels at sea and in port.  Electrical equipment was seized from vessels and recovered from the seabed, and documentary evidence was acquired from a number of other authorities in Cornwall and in Scotland where most of the razor clams were destined for onward sale.

Razor clams landed in bulk were a valuable food commodity, with much of it being bought and then exported by Scottish based shellfish merchants to countries such as China and Hong Kong where there was strong demand for the product.  The first sale price for whole razor clams was generally between £6 and £10 per kilo, so regular fishing trips from which landings often ranged from a few hundred kilos to a couple of tonnes made this illegal enterprise very profitable.

The  vessels used by Mr Turner were observed, boarded and inspected on numerous occasions from the summer of 2018 through to January 2020, with one further and separately owned vessel detected electro-fishing in July 2020.  Whilst officers would find razor clams on board the vessels at sea, whenever officers approached them, the underwater electrical array was quickly disconnected and dropped to the seabed.  Therefore, much of the evidence needed by Cornwall IFCA to prove that electro-fishing was undertaken came from officers on the shore who used video and infra-red cameras to record hot electricity generators and the use of an electrical array.  Whenever these shore-based observations were made at the same time as officers approaching an electro-fishing vessel in a patrol vessel, it was clear to see how the array was disconnected and the electro-fishing activity was disguised.  When officers were on board the vessels owned by Turner, he and his crew iterated well-rehearsed lies to explain their fishing and the quantities of razor clams retained on board.  However, on several occasions, officers had already identified several important factors about a fishing trip which exposed their lies and also indicated that electro-fishing had been carried out.

In January 2020, a black RIB belonging to Turner was utilised by a three person crew to electro-fish for razor clams in Falmouth Bay.  This was observed and video recorded from the shore.  The Cornwall IFCA survey vessel, Tiger Lily VI, was used to facilitate a boarding by officers, by which time the electrical array had been jettisoned from the RIB.  However, using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the array was soon found, picked up and seized.  With court proceedings already underway against Turner and others, one crewman, David Ellis (46 years old, from Millbrook, Cornwall) was prosecuted separately at Plymouth District Magistrates Court on 9th March 2022.  He pleaded guilty and received an 18 month conditional discharge and was ordered to pay £600 costs. As with many of the people who worked on Turner’s vessels, he had lied to officers about his identity and address.  A private investigator was employed to assist officers with tracing him and others, in order that a court summons could be successfully served.

Turner took a belligerent attitude towards Cornwall IFCA officers who had been directly involved in the investigations and searches which deprived him of some of his property.  Goading and intimidatory behaviour was experienced by officers on a number of occasions, which led to the police being informed and, at times, their attendance was required to maintain order.  The behaviour of Turner was the worst that had ever been experienced by officers working for the authority.

The court proceedings, which had to escalate from the Magistrates Court to the Crown Court in view of the seriousness of the offences and consequent charges, were a very drawn out process. With so many defendants maintaining not guilty pleas for years, plus a backlog in the court system and a barristers strike, a potentially lengthy trial was delayed and then postponed to June 2023.  However, as the trial drew closer, the defendants gradually decided to enter guilty pleas to all the counts on their indictments, culminating with Mr Turner and his company on the 18 May 2023, which meant there was no longer a need for any of the defendants to stand trial.

The full list of counts on the indictments were as follows:

1. Transferring criminal property, contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

2. Fishing using electrical current, contrary to Council Regulation (EC) No.850/98 and Council Regulation (EU) No.2019/1241.

3. Gathering bivalve molluscs, contrary to Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013.

4. Carrying and deploying electrical equipment, contrary to a Scottish fishing   licence condition.

5. Fishing for razor clams, contrary to a Scottish fishing licence condition.

6. Failing to submit FISH1 landing declaration, contrary to a Scottish fishing licence condition.

7. Failing to comply with a relevant fishing vessel code of practice, contrary to the Fishing Vessel (Code of Practice) Regulations 2017.

8. Employing a person who went to sea without completing a required training course, contrary to the Fishing Vessel (Safety Training) Regulations 1989.

9. Employing a person who went to sea as a skipper without completing a required training course, contrary to the Fishing Vessel (Safety Training) Regulations 1989.

10. Aiding and abetting a company to use an unlicensed fishing vessel, contrary to the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861.

11. Failing to comply with a requirement to provide a name and address, contrary to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Simon Cadman, Cornwall IFCA’s Principal Enforcement Officer said,

“Following five years of long and complex investigations and legal proceedings, it is extremely pleasing that our clear and extensive evidence of illegal fishing and other related offences has resulted in court convictions for everyone we had prosecuted.  This can be put down to the tenacity of many Cornwall IFCA officers who were involved in the investigations, together with assistance from a number of other authorities and individuals for which the authority is very grateful.  I feel certain that if Cornwall IFCA had not pursued its concentrated investigations in the way that it did, electro-fishing would have become a serious threat to inshore shellfish fisheries here and elsewhere in England.  The sentencing this month of the people who worked aboard Turner’s vessels is a welcome step in concluding the matters but there is still the sentencing for Turner and his company expected in September.  I hope that having demonstrated our ability to conduct a complex and high level of investigation, plus our determination to ensure the delivery of appropriate punishments for deliberate illegal fishing, this will deter anyone else who may consider operating in such a way within the Cornwall IFCA district."
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