A MAN has been landed with a court bill for more than £5,000 over damaging fishing activities in a protected marine area off the west Dorset coast.

In a case heard at Weymouth Magistrates Court, the vessel Cristal Waters FY34 was found to have used scallop dredges within the Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area, contrary to the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) Bottom Towed Fishing Gear Bylaw 2016.

The court heard that on July 5 last year the boat was intercepted by a Southern IFCA Fisheries Protection Vessel about three miles off Burton Bradstock and 200 metres inside the protected area.

It was observed to have scallop dredges over the side of the vessel which were full of scallops.

The master of the Plymouth-based vessel Cristal Waters, Matthew David Bull, aged 40, of Exmouth, Devon failed to appear in Weymouth Magistrates Court on January 21 to answer the charges and in his absence, he was sentenced with a fine of £3,000, costs of £2,192 and a victim surcharge of £170, making a total of £5,362.

Southern IFCA is responsible for the management of fisheries off the region's coast. It has a range of bylaws to protect fisheries and the marine environment and operates four patrols vessels in coastal waters.

After the case, Robert Clark, Chief Officer of Southern IFCA said: “The Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area is designated for the protection of mud stone reefs for which it is considered to be one of the best areas in the United Kingdom. The protected mud stone reefs provide a habitat for species including sea fans, sponges and corals. These habitats in turn attract many fish and crustacea.

"Fishing is allowed in the marine protected area, as long as the activities are not damaging to the seabed or to nature conservation. Coastal fishing communities from Lyme Regis, West Bay and elsewhere rely upon this productive ecosystem for their livelihoods.

"Illegal fishing, which damages the reefs, threatens both the marine environment and these coastal fishing communities. Southern IFCA bylaws protect this important and fragile habitat.”