Revised enforcement regime within English waters
The regulation of marine resources has passed into the hands of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) which will be based in Newcastle upon Tyne. The MMO has whole raft of new powers in respect of management of the marine environment including the establishment of marine conservation zones, the regulation of dredging and deposits at sea as well as fishing activities.
As far as the enforcement of fisheries legislation is concerned, the Act provides for the establishment of Marine Enforcement Officers (MEOs). MEOs will, along with other designated enforcement officers, have a number of enforcement powers known as the Common Enforcement Powers. These enforcement powers as the name suggests will be common to all enforcement officers whether they be MEOs, officers of the Environment Agency or, after April 2011, officers of the new Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities which are to replace the current Sea Fisheries Committees.
In addition to the common enforcement powers MEOs also have specific powers relating to fisheries enforcement including the power to inspect and seize objects at sea, retain objects that are seized and ultimately dispose of them. They have the power to seize fish and fishing gear and the power to seize any items which would, if they were used for sea fishing, constitute a criminal offence.
IIn particular the Act also provides for the power to detain vessels in connection with court proceedings. Previously fishery officers had the power to detain vessels back into port for the purposes of investigation and those powers still exist under the Act. However, section 279 of the Act specifically allows an enforcement officer to detain a vessel if he has reasonable grounds to suspect that the master, owner or charterer of a vessel has committed an offence and that there is either a real risk that the person will not attend court or that if a person is convicted of an offence that the court will order a vessel to be detained.
The Act also sets out the procedure to have vessels released. A person wishing to have a vessel released can make application to the Court or may make payment of a bond. An informal arrangement has always existed between the MFA and the industry in that the MFA would consider releasing detained vessels on the payment of security, but this has never had any basis in law. The new act codifies the provision for the release of vessels.
The Act provides that where a vessel is being detained under the Act the enforcement authority can enter into an agreement with the owner or charterer of the vessel for the placing of a bond. Furthermore in the event of the failure of the parties to agree the amount or nature of the bond a court can rule upon this and set the terms of the bond. Likewise once a bond is in place the court also has the power to remove the bond and order its repayment. The new legislation regarding the formalised position as to bonds still remains untested at the time of preparing this article but no doubt it will provide a more formalised and easy to understand method of ensuring that vessels are returned to fishing as quickly as possible after detention for offences. The legislation applies to both UK and non-UK fishing vessels.
The Act is a major piece of legislation also governing such matters as a wholesale review of the management of the inshore fishery within England and Wales as well as public access to the UK coastline. The coming months will no doubt see much debate about the implementation of its provisions.
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