A Cornish fishing company has been ordered to pay a fine of £20,000 after being prosecuted for breaching rules over protected lobsters.

Last week Rowse Fishing Limited and Ben Rowse, aged 26, of Penzance - the respective owner and master of the Vivier potting vessel Emma Louise TO60 - pleaded guilty at Truro Magistrates' Court to the offences of fishing for berried, v-notched or mutilated lobsters.

Magistrates sentenced the company to a fine of £20,000 and the payment of prosecution costs of £6,309.90. 

The master, Ben Rowse, was fined £2,338 plus a victim surcharge of £190.

Rowse Fishing Ltd own a number of fishing vessels, including the Emma Louise TO60, which are used to catch crabs and lobsters off the coast of Cornwall.

Berried lobsters (female lobsters carrying a clutch of eggs) are protected; any caught must be returned immediately to the sea.

This is vital to help maintain healthy lobster stocks. It is estimated that each legally sized berried lobster could be carrying between 7,000 and 35,000 eggs.

However, it has been estimated that only two out of 30,000 eggs are likely to produce a lobster that will reach maturity, which is why it is vital to protect berried lobsters.

As a voluntary measure, some skippers choose to “v-notch” berried lobsters before returning them to the sea.

This involves clipping a small triangular piece from one of the lobster’s hardtail flaps, which can remain present through two or three moults.

It provides an additional level of protection, as there is legislation in place which makes it an offence to fish for or land lobsters with a v-notch, including any with a mutilated tail, which may obscure a v-notch. 

This applies whether such a lobster is berried or not at the time it is recaught.

On May 19 last year, Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) officers went aboard the Emma Louise to carry out an inspection of the catch when she was in Newlyn harbour.

The skipper, Ben Rowse, informed officers that he would not be landing the catch, however, he did drain the tanks to allow officers to inspect the shellfish catch onboard.

During the inspection, officers found six berried female lobsters, two v-notched lobsters and a mutilated lobster.

The Cornwall IFCA said: "They noted that a large number of the female lobsters they inspected had tails with undersides that appeared to have undergone rough treatment, which led them to suspect this may have been caused by deliberate scrubbing, using a brush, to remove any eggs.

"There was a large number of lobster eggs around the deck and pot hauler and officers also found eggs in the bristles of three scrubbing brushes which they discovered wrapped up in a deck stowage compartment.

"This indicates that there potentially may have been a number of berried lobsters which had not been detected due to their eggs having been forcibly removed to disguise offending."

Simon Cadman, Cornwall IFCA’s principal enforcement officer, said it was essential that the rules designed to conserve lobsters and support a sustainable lobster fishery are followed by all fishermen. 

“Anyone who knowingly takes berried and v-notched lobsters is demonstrating scant regard for the future of lobster fishing.

“This threatens a traditional way of life for hundreds of fishermen in Cornwall, with knock-on effects for fishing communities and shellfish-related businesses.

"The sentences imposed by magistrates on the owner and master of the Emma Louise reflect the seriousness of the offences and it is hoped the financial penalties will deter them and others from similar behaviour," he said.