The master of a Whalsay pelagic boat got involved in a multi-million pound scam because he could not bear to throw dead fish back into the water, it was claimed today.
Adenia skipper George Anderson, 55, who first went to sea as a cook in 1977, found the practice of ditching under-sized herring and mackerel “repugnant”, said defence advocate Mark Moir.
Anderson, of Harbour View, Symbister, is one of 17 skippers before the High Court in Edinburgh this week.
They are facing heavy fines for breaching European Union quotas and illegally landing so-called “black fish” worth more than £40 million at the Lerwick-based processing plant Shetland Catch Ltd.
Judge Lord Turnbull is expected to sentence the fishermen in Glasgow at the end of next month. But first he is hearing pleas for leniency on their behalf.
Today, Mr Moir told how there was a practice of dumping fish at sea if they were not up to standard.
“Anderson found this a repugnant activity and didn’t do so. As a result of that, what he found himself doing was arriving back at dock with excess fish he had caught.”
Anderson landed some of his catch illegally because he did not want the low value fish to eat into his quota, the court heard.
“That is how he progressed to the landing of black fish,” said Mr Moir.
“I simply explain that by way of background. I do not suggest that lessens the seriousness of what Anderson has done or in any way say that exculpates him.”
The lawyer described Anderson as a respected member of the fishing community who deeply regretted becoming involved.
Even after the discovery of the illegal landings, the government agency Marine Scotland still asked him to skipper its ship sailing in the North Sea to check fish stocks.
Anderson, whose earnings last year were close to £100,000, has already been ordered to hand over £40,700 to strip him of the profits resulting from his part in the scam.
Advocate depute Peter Ferguson QC, prosecuting, disputed Anderson’s version of the industry-wide dumping of small fish.
He said that regulations demanded skippers land the whole of their catch, regardless of size and value, as long as they still had quota left.
The court has heard that at Shetland Catch officials of the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency monitored catch sizes on computer screens which had been altered to show lower weights.
The true size of the landings of mackerel and herring were shown in an engineer’s room where the officials did not go.
A search of the firm’s books revealed discrepancies in their figures.
The skippers caught as a result of Operation Sea Dog have admitted breaching the Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Controls Measures) (Scotland) Order of 2000 and the Fisheries Act 1981. Offences were committed between 2002 and 2005.
The penalty laid down by law is an unlimited fine but the skippers cannot be jailed.