A BATCH of undersized lobsters worth a few pounds each has ended up costing the taxpayer £20,000.
Fisherman Edward Potts, 37, and his pal Kevin Conlin, 53, were caught loading a van at Sunderland Fish Quay with the 188 illegal crustaceans in July last year.
The live lobsters, which were to be sold for cash, fell short of the 87mm length required by law for landing and transportation.
Potts and Conlin were prosecuted by the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation and could have had their case heard at magistrates court.
But the pair elected to appear at Newcastle Crown Court, where they pleaded guilty to storing and transporting lobsters below the minimum landing size – at a hugely increased cost to the public purse.
At the sentencing hearing Judge James Goss told the court: “It has probably cost the public about £20,000 for these lobsters.”
The court heard the prosecution costs could have been about just £3,000 if the case had been dealt with by the lower court.
And because both men have limited incomes the judge said he could not order them to repay the full amount of costs they have incurred.
Judge Goss said Potts must pay a £200 fine and £500 towards the costs. Conlin was ordered to pay £100 fine and £250 costs.
The judge told the men: “You have, by reason of the election to this court, incurred an enormous amount of public expense in relation to these matters.
“You are entitled to a small amount of credit for pleading guilty when these matters came before this court, but that should have been done at a much earlier stage.
“Because of your offending the public are paying for a considerable amount.”
Judge Goss said he was satisfied Potts played the lead role in the offending.
He told the dad-of-three: “I am quite satisfied this was essentially for your benefit. You knew you were committing an offence, that these were undersized but you took a chance and broke the law.
“Any further offence of this nature will result in a significant financial penalty.”
Lee Fish, defending, said Potts, of Ernwill Avenue, Castletown, Sunderland, has been the skipper of a vessel called The Incentive for about three years.
But Mr Fish added; “He doesn’t make very much money.
“It was due to financial pressures within the home he committed this particular offence.
“He is perfectly frank. He intended to try and sell these undersized lobsters to try and make ends meet.”
Alec Burns, also defending, said Conlin, of Wraith Terrace, Ryhope, Sunderland, who is a full-time carer to his ill wife, had gone along for a day’s free fishing and the hope of getting some mackerel.