Fishing skippers admit £3 million ‘black fish’ scam at High Court
Three more pelagic boat skippers today admitted illegally landing mackerel and herring, this time with a total value of almost £3 million.
At the High Court in Glasgow Adenia skipper George Anderson, 55, from Whalsay, Alexander Masson, 65, from Fraserburgh, and Alexander Wiseman, 59, from Banff, admitted landing thousands of tonnes of “black fish” at Shetland Catch Ltd in Lerwick.
They hid the true quantity of their catch from the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) and landed in excess of their agreed quota of mackerel and herring.
The court was told that the SFPA suspected that there was widespread illegal landing of pelagic fish. An investigation was launched and accountants brought in to analyse pelagic fish factories in Scotland.
They identified that Shetland Catch’s outgoings could not be supported by its declared earnings.
The court heard that the three skippers were part of a massive scam to cheat fishing quota restrictions imposed by the European Union.
Other skippers have already admitted their part in the scheme.
Advocate depute Peter Ferguson QC, prosecuting, told the court that accountants found a £14 million discrepancy between Shetland Catch’s declared landings and earnings from January 2002 to March 2004.
He added: “An investigation was launched and a system uncovered that enabled the masters of the fishing vessels landing fish at Shetland Catch Ltd, with the support and assistance of people at the factory, to disguise the true weight of fish and furnish false information on their landing declarations.”
The three pleaded guilty to a contravention of the Sea Fishing Enforcement of Community Control Measures (Scotland) Order 2000 and the Fisheries Act 1981 by knowingly or recklessly providing false information to the SFPA.
Anderson committed the offence between 25th February 2002 and 20th March 2004, Masson between 5th August 2002 and 23rd February 2005 and Wiseman between 29th August 2002 and 13th February 2005.
The court was told that Anderson had failed to declared fish with a value of £840,154.04, Masson £1,242,723.89 and Wiseman £849,812.77.
Mr Ferguson said: “Every landing of fish over the periods libelled in the charges by each of the masters of the vessels followed a similar pattern.
“When the vessels were still at sea the master would telephone the factory, or vice versa, and speak to either the fish buyer Ryan Leith or the assistant managing director Simon Leiper and tell him how many tonnes of fish he had on board.
“They would arrange how the fish was to be apportioned between declared and undeclared fish and the master would fill in his logbook accordingly, recording only the amount of fish that was to be declared. A price would also be declared at this stage.
“The Shetland Catch Ltd representative would also make a note of the total catch and the portion to be declared and the portion that was not be to declared. The price was also noted.”
The court was told that this information was found in diaries kept by Mr Leiper which were seized by police during a search of the fish factory on 27th September 2005.
Anderson made 22 landings between 25th February 2002 and 20th March 2004 and on each occasion he made a false declaration. In three of the landings the value of the undeclared fish outweighed that of the declared fish. The value of his undeclared fish represented 36 per cent of the total fish he landed.
Masson, one of the skippers of the Kings Cross, made 16 landings between 5th August 2002 and 23rd February 2005. In five of these landings the undeclared fish weighed more than that declared. The value of the undeclared landings represented 42 per cent of the total.
In the case of Wiseman, another of the masters of the Kings Cross, he made 21 landings between 28th August 2002 and 13th February 2005. His undeclared landings made up 37 per cent of the fish landed.
Mr Ferguson told the court that as a result of the over-fishing the UK had effectively exceeded its fish quota for herring and mackerel from 2002 to 2005.
As a result of this an agreement was thrashed out where the UK’s quotas for these fish were reduced for a six-year period.
Mr Ferguson added: “The criminal conduct being prosecuted here is the making of false declarations by individual skippers and is distinct for the quota reduction position.”
The court was told that the boats did not even have to land their catch at Lerwick harbour. A supply pipe took the fish straight from the hold into the Shetland Catch factory.
Sentence was deferred on all three until later this year by judge Lord Turnbull.
The maximum penalty for the offence they have pleaded guilty to is an unlimited fine.