30th March 2017 A Donegal fish processing plant and a company director have been fined €45,000 in total for tampering with weighing scales used to measure incoming fish catches. This follows a joint investigation carried out by NSAI (National Standards Authority of Ireland) and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).
Norfish Ltd, based in Killybegs, and director Tony Byrne, were handed down the sentence yesterday at Donegal Circuit Court. Mr. Byrne was given a six-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay €10,000 to a local hospice in Killybegs, and a further €10,000 to the Donegal Branch of the RNLI. Norfish Ltd was given three months to pay a €25,000 fine.
The inspection carried out by NSAI’s Legal Metrology division followed an alert from the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, which had uncovered non-compliance during an unannounced inspection. The SFPA noticed that fish were being carried along a conveyor belt and over the flow scales, but were not being weighed. The SFPA withdrew Norfish Ltd’s permit to weigh on site at this time and Legal Metrology conducted an inspection under Metrology Legislation on the 4th of December, 2013. It found that an electrical switch had been fitted to the company’s flow scales used to weigh incoming fish catches. This switch could be used to turn off the scales, allowing the fish to pass over without being weighed. Tampering with measuring instruments used in trade and rendering them inaccurate as a result is an offence under the Legal Metrology Act 1996.
Susan Steele, Chair, SFPA said the verdict is an important outcome for the fishing industry. “Mis-weighing distorts the declaration of catches and undermines the accuracy of data on stocks used by scientists to determine quotas and could affect the long term sustainability of our valuable fisheries and the coastal communities that rely on them.”
“Breaches such as these also threaten the continuation of in-factory weighing for the entire industry, which is permitted under a special exemption negotiated with the SFPA. This facility can continue only while the accuracy and correct use of those weighing systems is guaranteed,” she added.
EU fishery regulations require all fishery products to be weighed immediately on landing. However, the SFPA obtained a conditional derogation for the Irish industry which can allow the weighing to take place after transport – typically at processing establishments.