Six Whalsay fishermen yesterday admitted their part in a £14 million scam to cheat European fishing quota restrictions.
At the High Court in Glasgow David Hutchison, 64, Robert Polson, 47, Thomas Eunson, 55, Allen Anderson, 54, John Irvine, 66, and Allister Irvine, 61, admitted landing thousands of tonnes of “black fish”. 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.
Advocate depute Peter Ferguson QC, prosecuting, told the court: “Each fishing vessel has a fixed quota allocation and masters had at the time to complete their daily log to within a 20 per cent tolerance.
“The master is responsible for the accuracy of the declaration of the fish landed. The criminal conduct being prosecuted here is the making of false declarations by individual skippers.”
The six men 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.
The pelagic company Shetland Catch admitted helping the skippers give false information to the agency about the catches landed.
The offences were committed between January 2002 and March 2005. The value of all the undeclared fish landed was around £14 million and the maximum penalty for the offences is an unlimited fine.
The court was told that SFPA suspected that there was widespread illegal landing of pelagic fish. An inquiry was launched and accountants brought in to analyse pelagic fish factories in Scotland.
They identified that Shetland Catch’s earnings could not be supported by their declared earnings.
Mr Ferguson added: “This information supported the SFPA’s suspicions that there had been a significant under-declaration of fish by Shetland Catch and the accused.”
Hutchison, skipper of the Charisma, landed £3,698,705.40 of undeclared fish; Polson landed £3,679,086.76, Eunson £1,467,243 and Anderson £432,130.41, all from the Serene; and John Irvine landed £3,658,981.33 and Allister Irvine £1,828,175.23 from the Zephyr.
Each of the boats was capable of catching 1,000 tonnes of fish a day.
All six men were served with confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act and sentence was deferred until November.