Thirteen Shetland fishermen fined £470,000 for ‘cynical and sophisticated’ black fish scheme
Thirteen Shetland pelagic fishermen were fined a total of £470,000 at the High Court in Glasgow today for their part in the Shetland Catch blackfish scandal which saw herring and mackerel worth £47.5 million landed illegally.
The owners of the factory have yet to be sentenced. Four Scottish skippers who made illegal landings at Lerwick were also fined today.
Among the seven Shetland boats involved the biggest fines of £80,000 each were handed down to Antares skipper Laurence Irvine, 66, and Zephyr skipper John Irvine, 68 while Serene skipper Bobby Polson, 48, was fined £70,000.
The other Shetlanders fined were: Research skippers Willie Williamson, 64, £45,000 and Gary Williamson, 52, £35,000; Charisma skipper David Hutchison, 66, £40,000; Serene men Thomas Eunson, 56, £40,000 and Allen Anderson, 55, £3,000; Zephyr skipper Allister Irvine, 63, £35,000.
Antarctic skippers John Stewart, 56, and Colin Leask, 38, were fined £15,000 and £3,000 respectively; Adenia skipper George Anderson, 55, was fined £12,000 and another Adenia skipper George Henry, 60, of Clousta, had to pay £12,000. He was the only one of the accused from Shetland not from or living in Whalsay.
Four Scottish skippers were also fined for their landings at Shetland Catch. They were: Hamish Slater, 52, of Fraserburgh, £80,000 and Victor Buschini, 51, of Poulton Le Flyde, Lancashire, £70,000, both from the Enterprise and the Kings Cross pair Alexander Masson, 65, of Fraserburgh, £50,000 and Alexander Wiseman, 60, of Banff, £50,000.
Judge Lord Turnbull told the 17 skippers they had been involved in a “cynical and sophisticated” scheme which was a deliberate and calculated attempt to evade the quota system.
He described the men as normally law-abiding, but added: “The motivation was purely financial. Those who were already making a good living saw this as a way more income could be generated and were prepared to participate in deliberate lies and falsehoods.”
The 13 Shetland men have already been ordered to pay back £1.7 million in profits from the trade as well as having their boats’ quotas docked by the EU. The Scottish skippers had to pay back £1.2 million, making a total of £2.9 million.
As they the fishermen left court en masse they made no comment.
Other pelagic factories were involved in similar scams. Fish processing plant Alexander Buchan Ltd, which no longer operates, has admitted landing £4.8 million black fish at Peterhead over a two year period.
It was fined £240,000 by Lord Turnbull who said that the landing of black fish “depended entirely on the willingness of fish processing companies to install systems to disguise the actual landings figures”. He branded that “the great deception”.
A second Peterhead processing plant Fresh Catch admitted landing £10.5 million of illegal fish. Shetland Catch has already pleaded guilty to landing £47.5 million of black fish.
Fresh Catch and Shetland Catch have still to be sentenced along with a further six skippers who admitted being involved in the scam.
In court it was revealed that the true extent of the black fishing in Scotland from 2002 to 2005 was £62.8 million with hundreds of illegal landings at Shetland and Peterhead.
Stephen Bellamy, 49, from Fraserburgh, John Smith, 36, and James Smith, 54, both from Peterhead, Ernest Simpson, 64, Allan Simpson, 42, both from Fraserburgh and Oswald McRonald, 63, from Banff and Fresh Catch Limited admitted landing illegal catches. The offences were committed between 2002 and 2005. They will be sentenced in May.
All 23 fishermen and three fish processing companies were snared during Operation Trawler mounted by the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency – now known as Marine Scotland – and the police.
Suspicion first fell on Shetland Catch and Fresh Catch when accountants examined their books. Put simply, the earnings they were paying tax on far exceeded their declared landings of fish.
Alexander Buchan based in Peterhead was also investigated when an extra conveyor belt was discovered in the factory. Using this device up to 70 per cent of a catch could go undeclared. The company was ordered to pay back £165,000 under a confiscation order.
Scales at Shetland Catch Ltd and at Fresh Catch in Peterhead were set to underestimate the weight of the fish being landed by the boats. The true readings were on a computer screen elsewhere in the buildings.