Two pelagic boat skippers today admitted making illegal landings of £7.2 million worth of black fish at Shetland Catch in a scam to evade quotas.
During a three-year period Victor Buschini, 50, and Hamish Slater, 51, of the Fraserburgh-registered Enterprise, failed to declare more than a third of their catches of mackerel and herring to the fisheries protection authorities.
The convictions of Buschini and Slater at the High Court in Edinburgh follow an earlier court hearing in August this year when six Shetland fishermen pled guilty to landing black fish worth almost £15 million.
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 fish illegally.
Hutchison’s undeclared landings were valued at £3,698,705; Polson’s at £3,679,086; Eunson’s at £1,467,243; Anderson’s at £432,130; John Irvine’s at £3,658,981 and Allister Irvine’s at £1,828,175.
Fish processor Shetland Catch admitted helping the skippers give false information to the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) about the catches landed by their boats.
In the latest case Slater, who has a previous conviction under sea fish conservation measures which resulted in a £3,000 fine, made undeclared landings of £3,994,941 worth of fish – a total of 35 per cent of the amount he brought ashore.
Buschini’s undeclared landings were worth £3,240,621 – more than 36 per cent of the total fish he landed, the court heard.
Advocate depute Peter Ferguson QC said: “The mechanics of the under-declaration was identical for each of the two accused vessel masters. During the periods in each charge every single landing by that master to Shetland Catch was under declared to the SFPA.”
He added: “Buschini, one of the masters of the Enterprise, made 44 landings at Shetland Catch between January 6 in 2002 and March 7 in 2005. Following each of these landings he made a false declaration to the SFPA by under-declaring the weight of fish landed.”
The prosecutor said that on six occasions the value of the undeclared fish was greater than the amount actually declared.
He said that between 31st January 2002 and 27th February 2005 Slater made 47 landings from the boat at Shetland Catch and following each made a false declaration by under-declaring the weight of fish landed. For 18 landings the under-declarations were in excess of £100,000.
The judge, Lord Turnbull, commented that “a sophisticated and commercial operation” was involved.
Slater, of Strichen Road, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, and Buschini, of Cuckoos Nest Kiln Lane, Hambleton, Poulton Le Fylde, Lancashire, admitted breaching Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Control Measures (Scotland) Order 2000 and the 1981 Fisheries Act. They pled guilty to “knowingly or recklessly” furnishing information which was false over landing declarations.
The maximum penalty available is an unlimited fine, meaning the skippers will not go to prison. Prosecutors also moved to confiscate any proceeds of crime from both men.
Mr Ferguson said: “Pelagic fishing vessels in Scotland are the largest and most profitable in the Scottish fleet. They can catch and hold on board very large quantities of herring and mackerel. These vessels can catch hundreds of tonnes of fish in their nets and with modern technology can quickly take the catch onboard and deliver it to the fish processor.”
The advocate depute went on: “Shetland Catch Ltd is and was at the time of the offences the largest pelagic fish processing operator in Scotland, one of the largest in Europe.”
Its factory at Gremista has a supply pipe through which the catch can be pumped directly from a fishing boat into its premises.
Mr Ferguson said that the SFPA, which is now Marine Scotland, had “suspicions that there was widespread illegal landing of pelagic fish”. Accountants were brought in to analyse the accounts at all eight processing factories dealing with mackerel and herring landings.
The investigation found that the Shetland Catch factory had earnings that could not be supported by its declared landings.
Sentence was deferred on Buschini and Slater and their lawyers were given time to prepare a response to the Crown confiscation move.
After the court hearing director of operations at the Crown Office Scott Pattison said: “The investigation is continuing into other landings but the successful prosecution of these additional accused is a further example of successful joint working between law enforcement agencies.
“This is not a victimless crime. The consequences of overfishing on this scale are far-reaching and the impact on fish stocks and the marine environment is potentially devastating.”
In 2005 two Shetland fishermen were fined a total of £90,000 and ordered to repay almost £1 million in a previous black fish scam involving landing mackerel and herring in Denmark.
The skipper of the Altaire, John Peter Duncan, was fined £50,000 and the first mate on the boat, Jerry Ramsay, was hit with a £40,000 financial penalty.