Six more Shetland fishermen who admitted their parts in a scam worth more than £15 million appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh today.
Of the five boats involved, one skipper’s illegal catch of “black fish”, worth more than £5.6 million, is the highest figure yet admitted.
The fishermen were Symbister-based Laurence Irvine, 64; Gary Williamson, 51; William Williamson, 63, and Colin Leask, 37, along with John Stewart, 55, a Whalsay man living in King Harald Street, Lerwick, and George Henry, 59, of Noonsbrough, Clousta.
Tonnes of herring and mackerel were landed illegally to exceed quotas set by European Union regulations which aim to protect fish stocks. The latest case brings the total of fishermen who have appeared in the dock in this case to 14.
And fish processing company Shetland Catch – the largest firm of its type in Scotland and one of the largest in Europe – has admitted helping the skippers to give false information.
Judge Lord Turnbull was told that, so far, the total value of illegal fish landings has been put at more than £37 million.
Advocate depute Peter Ferguson QC, prosecuting, said the offences were committed between January 2002 and March 2005.
Mr Ferguson said the pelagic fishing vessels which go after mackerel over the winter months and herring in the summer were the largest and most profitable in the Scottish fishing fleet.
Their nets could trap hundreds of tonnes of fish which are pumped into large, refrigerated sea water tanks on board to ensure quick and fresh delivery to shore-based fish processors.
Fishermen and their agents have to submit log books, sales notes and landing declarations for scrutiny by the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (now called Marine Scotland – Compliance) which is responsible for enforcing quotas.
Mr Ferguson said the protection officers became suspicious that there were widespread illegal landings of mackerel and herring.
Accountants were brought in to examine the books of the eight processing factories in Scotland and they discovered that the figures did not add up for Shetland Catch. The firm was raided in September 2005 and the scam came to light.
The fishermen all admitted breaches of the Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Control Measures) (Scotland) Order 2000 and the Fisheries Act 1981.
Irvine, skipper of the Antares, made 77 landings between October 2002 and February 2005 which included false declarations totalling more than £5.6 million, more than a third of the fish he landed.
Gary Williamson, skipper of the Research, made 31 landings between January 2002 and February 2005, under-declaring the weight of fish landed to the value of £1.9 million. Again, that was more than a third of the total fish he landed.
William Williamson, also skipper of the Research, illegally landed fish worth £3.6 million in 57 landings between January 2002 and March 2005, again more than a third of the fish he landed.
George Henry, one of the skippers of the Adenia, scammed more than £1.4 million in 16 landings between July 2004 and March 2005, almost half of the total he landed.
John Stewart, skipper of the Antarctic, made 41 landings between January 2002 and January 2004, failing to declare a third of the fish with a value of more than a million pounds.
Colin Leask, when skipper of the replacement vessel Antarctic II, made 13 landings between October 2004 and March 2005. The value of the undeclared fish was put at more than £1.4 million – more than half of the fish he landed.
The case is due back in court in February when lawyers will report on progress they have made in trying to calculate the illegal profits made by the fishermen. Until that process has been completed they cannot be sentenced. The penalty for the regulations the skippers broke is an unlimited fine but they cannot be jailed.
Meanwhile the six Shetland fishermen who admitted similar offences in August are still awaiting sentence. A new court date in February has been fixed for David Hutchison, 64; Robert Polson, 47; Thomas Eunson, 55; Allen Anderson, 54; John Irvine, 66 and Allister Irvine, 61.
Fraserburgh fishermen Victor Buschini, 50 and Hamish Slater, 51, whose boat was also involved in illegal landings, admitted the scam last month. They are due back in court in January.