Judge urged to take account of Shetland Catch’s role in isles economy
A High Court judge was today urged to consider the vital role the Shetland Catch fish processing factory plays in the isles economy as he looks at whether to impose a £6 million confiscation order.
Lord Turnbull was told by the company’s QC David Burns that it did not use illegal profits from the black fish scam to line the pockets of directors or shareholders.
Prosecutors claim that helping quota-dodging pelagic men to land mackerel and herring which they did not declare to the authorities earned the Lerwick-based firm more than £6 million.
Under legislation more usually directed against drug barons, the Crown is demanding that the plant should hand over £6,157,000.
Shetland Catch Ltd, which also faces a heavy fine once a confiscation figure is agreed, is challenging the demand.
Lord Turnbull has heard a week of evidence and legal argument at the High Court in Edinburgh and is expected to give his ruling on 14th June.
In a final plea today, Mr Burns asked the judge to take into account the importance of Shetland Catch to the local economy.
The plant, the biggest of its type in Scotland and one of the largest in Europe, was a major employer in Shetland, he said, and was already struggling to cope with substantial debts.
The state had already got back some of the illegally made profits, said Mr Burns, in the form of corporation tax.
“It is not the case that the profits were being used to line the pockets of directors or shareholders,” he said.
Shetland Catch Ltd has admitted helping local skippers to defy quota rules between January 2002 and March 2005.
Advocate depute Barry Divers said forensic accountants reckoned that more than a third of the mackerel and herring landed during that time was illegal, and valued at £47.5 million.
Mr Burns said the discovery of the scam meant fish quotas were drastically reduced, turning profits into losses in subsequent years.
Last December fishing boat skippers agreed to hand over a total of almost £3 million to settle confiscation demands in their cases.
And in February, 17 skippers and a Peterhead-based fish processing firm were fined a total of almost £1 million for defying quota regulations.
Sentencing them, Lord Turnbull described the scam as “an episode of shame” for the industry.
Shetland Catch was brought to court by Operation Trawler, a seven-year investigation by the then Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency which had become suspicious about the tonnage of mackerel and herring being landed.