Six men have gone on trial in King’s Lynn today accused of taking shellfish from a closed area of the Wash.
John Lake, 75, of Spring Lane, Shouldham, faces five charges of owning vessels which took shellfish in contravention of fisheries regulations, which he denies.
His co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges of being the masters of the individual boats involved in the case.
They are Robert Brewster, 56, of Richmond Close, Boston; Mark Freestone, 43, of Stone Close, Watlington; Kieron Johnson, 24, of Front Way, North Lynn, King’s Lynn; Leigh Lake, 34, of Fir Tree Drive, West Winch and Deividas Pusinkas, 30, of Kingcup, Gaywood, King’s Lynn.
The court was told that the vessels had been observed in an area of the Wash around the Roger Sand, off Lynn, on July 20 last year.
Later that day, the boats were each recorded landing the maximum 2,000 kilograms of fish they are permitted to catch on a single day when they returned to the Lynn docks.
Oliver Powell, prosecuting on behalf of the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (EIFCA), said the central question in the case was where the fish had been taken from.
He said it was not disputed that the loads had been landed or that the vessels were equipped for fishing.
Giving evidence this afternoon, Julian Gregory, the EIFCA’s acting chief executive, said fishermen had asked for the condition of the area in question to be looked at so fishing could take place there.
A letter giving seven days’ notice that the area was to be opened was issued on July 21, the day after the defendants’ vessels were seen there.
But, during cross-examination, defence barrister James Earl suggested that as many as 20 boats had been seen in the area on the day of the incident.
He said: “Clearly somebody must have known.”
But Mr Gregory said that, while the fishermen would have known it was being examined, they would not have known it was to be opened.
He said: “The whole industry knew we were exploring it. They knew we were listening to them. I would say there was a high degree of confidence.”
But he added: “They knew it wasn’t open. They decided to chance their arm.”
Fisheries officer Jason Byrne also insisted he had not known the fishery was to be opened on the day of the incident.
However, Mr Gregory did concede that the authority would encourage skippers to undertake reconnisance work in an area before taking any fish from it.
The court heard that, although the masters of each of the boats observed in the affected area was invited to attend an interview with EIFCA officers, none did so or responded to it in writing.
Mr Earl suggested that some oral responses had been given on the quayside.
But enforcement officer Simon Lee said he had not been made aware of them or a caution given to Freestone.
The court was also told the cockle fishing season in the Wash runs from June to November, subject to stock levels and environmental conditions.
The defendants are alleged to have acted in breach of the Wash Fisheries Order 1992, which allows for local management of the fish stocks.
They were each given licences to operate in the Wash in early July 2015, ahead of the alleged incident.
The trial, which is expected to last for three days, continues.