Sunderland lobster-catcher gets caught himself after breaching regulations

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A Sunderland fisherman with failing eyesight fell into the claws of marine inspectors when he landed an illegal lobster catch, a court heard.

William Wilton Snr, 64, of Lumley Towers, central Sunderland, was caught in their net when he brought ashore four females bearing fertilised eggs  - contravening protection regulations.

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Prosecutors also claimed there was evidence a brush found onboard the Sea Foam vessel had been used to scrub eggs from several other lobsters to make them appear a legal haul.

At South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court, he pleaded guilty to fishing for berried lobster, whereby a female carries fertilised eggs beneath her tail.

But his solicitor said his plea was based on his insistence he had not scrubbed them of their eggs on Tuesday, September 5.

And he claimed Wilton’s poor eyesight meant he had not been able to properly inspect the creatures while at sea.

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John Crawford, prosecuting, said officers from the North East Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority boarded Wilton’s boat at 9.20am.

Two orange baskets were examined – the first contained five male and five female lobsters, all legally caught.

But of the six female lobsters in the second basket, four still had black eggs attached, with the two others in a “rough condition”, Mr Crawford said.

He added: “It was suspected that other eggs had been removed by a brush, so that it can be claimed to be a lobster not bearing eggs.

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“A grey brush head was found that had lobster eggs on it. He does have previous like convictions.”

The court heard Wilton was fined in 2003 for landing undersized lobster, convicted in 2006 of obstructing a fisheries officer and fined in 2011 for another legislation offence.

The Lobsters and Crawfish (Prohibition of Fishing and Landing) Order means lobsters caught bearing eggs are required to be returned to the sea.

Paul Dunn, defending, said Wilton had been the master of the vessel, owned by his son, and was sailing it alone.

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Mr Dunn revealed Wilton had since stopped fishing and had retired and the Sea Foam had been taken out of service after being damaged in a storm.

He added: “It was an immediate guilty plea. He accepts the offence but not the scrubbing, but he has landed with eggs attached.

“His intention was to check better when he landed. His eyesight isn’t very good, it was difficult for him to see.”

Magistrates fined Wilton £300, with £800 court costs and a £120 victim surcharge.

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