Thirteen Shetland fishermen fined £470,000 for ‘cynical and sophisticated’ black fish scheme

Thirteen Shetland pelagic fishermen were fined a total of £470,000 at the High Court in Glasgow today for their part in the Shetland Catch blackfish scandal which saw herring and mackerel worth £47.5 million landed illegally.

The owners of the factory have yet to be sentenced. Four Scottish skippers who made illegal landings at Lerwick were also fined today.

Among the seven Shetland boats involved the biggest fines of £80,000 each were handed down to Antares skipper Laurence Irvine, 66, and Zephyr skipper John Irvine, 68 while Serene skipper Bobby Polson, 48, was fined £70,000.

The other Shetlanders fined were: Research skippers Willie Williamson, 64, £45,000 and Gary Williamson, 52, £35,000; Charisma skipper David Hutchison, 66, £40,000; Serene men Thomas Eunson, 56, £40,000 and Allen Anderson, 55, £3,000; Zephyr skipper Allister Irvine, 63, £35,000.

Antarctic skippers John Stewart, 56, and Colin Leask, 38, were fined £15,000 and £3,000 respectively; Adenia skipper George Anderson, 55, was fined £12,000 and another Adenia skipper George Henry, 60, of Clousta, had to pay £12,000. He was the only one of the accused from Shetland not from or living in Whalsay.

Four Scottish skippers were also fined for their landings at Shetland Catch. They were: Hamish Slater, 52, of Fraserburgh, £80,000 and Victor Buschini, 51, of Poulton Le Flyde, Lancashire, £70,000, both from the Enterprise and the Kings Cross pair Alexander Masson, 65, of Fraserburgh, £50,000 and Alexander Wiseman, 60, of Banff, £50,000.

Judge Lord Turnbull told the 17 skippers they had been involved in a “cynical and sophisticated” scheme which was a deliberate and calculated attempt to evade the quota system.

He described the men as normally law-abiding, but added: “The motivation was purely financial. Those who were already making a good living saw this as a way more income could be generated and were prepared to participate in deliberate lies and falsehoods.”

The 13 Shetland men have already been ordered to pay back £1.7 million in profits from the trade as well as having their boats’ quotas docked by the EU. The Scottish skippers had to pay back £1.2 million, making a total of £2.9 million.

As they the fishermen left court en masse they made no comment.

Other pelagic factories were involved in similar scams. Fish processing plant Alexander Buchan Ltd, which no longer operates, has admitted landing £4.8 million black fish at Peterhead over a two year period.

It was fined £240,000 by Lord Turnbull who said that the landing of black fish “depended entirely on the willingness of fish processing companies to install systems to disguise the actual landings figures”. He branded that “the great deception”.

A second Peterhead processing plant Fresh Catch admitted landing £10.5 million of illegal fish. Shetland Catch has already pleaded guilty to landing £47.5 million of black fish.

Fresh Catch and Shetland Catch have still to be sentenced along with a further six skippers who admitted being involved in the scam.

In court it was revealed that the true extent of the black fishing in Scotland from 2002 to 2005 was £62.8 million with hundreds of illegal landings at Shetland and Peterhead.

Stephen Bellamy, 49, from Fraserburgh, John Smith, 36, and James Smith, 54, both from Peterhead, Ernest Simpson, 64, Allan Simpson, 42, both from Fraserburgh and Oswald McRonald, 63, from Banff and Fresh Catch Limited admitted landing illegal catches. The offences were committed between 2002 and 2005. They will be sentenced in May.

All 23 fishermen and three fish processing companies were snared during Operation Trawler mounted by the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency – now known as Marine Scotland – and the police.

Suspicion first fell on Shetland Catch and Fresh Catch when accountants examined their books. Put simply, the earnings they were paying tax on far exceeded their declared landings of fish.

Alexander Buchan based in Peterhead was also investigated when an extra conveyor belt was discovered in the factory. Using this device up to 70 per cent of a catch could go undeclared. The company was ordered to pay back £165,000 under a confiscation order.

Scales at Shetland Catch Ltd and at Fresh Catch in Peterhead were set to underestimate the weight of the fish being landed by the boats. The true readings were on a computer screen elsewhere in the buildings.


Add Your Comment
  • W Conroy

    • February 24th, 2012 16:18

    “Scales at Shetland Catch Ltd and at Fresh Catch in Peterhead were set to underestimate the weight of the fish being landed by the boats. The true readings were on a computer screen elsewhere in the buildings.”

    Makes you wonder… Does that mean any boats not landing black fish were getting underpaid?

  • P. Fraser

    • February 24th, 2012 19:42

    If Shetland’s shame isn’t bad enough from the long list of about £30 million of scandalous losses through the incompetence of Shetland Islands Council and councillors, it is being made an order of magnitude worse by the pronouncements of the SIC leader Josie Simpson. Surely the leader of a Council that goes on local radio to publically condone the criminal actions of the ‘black fisherman’ and Shetland Catch should immediately be asked to resign.

  • ian tinkler

    • February 26th, 2012 12:54

    Is it any surprise that our fishing fleet has been devastated by dwindling numbers of fish? Cod, sand eel and herring, all at a fraction of their numbers of 100 years ago. If there ever was a reason for Marine Protection Areas to be established protecting as much of our seas as practicable the pure greed of those involved in this pillaging of fish stocks is so highlighted. Just how many honest fisher folk will lose their already diminished employment because of the actions of these commercially motivated avaricious criminals?

  • Jonathan Wills

    • February 26th, 2012 14:21

    Council leader Josie Simpson was, hopefully, speaking in a personal capacity when he appeared on Radio Shetland and seemed to defend the criminal activities of 13 local fishermen who defrauded the public of millions of pounds and did severe damage to public property (fish stocks) in the process. He certainly wasn’t speaking on behalf of Shetland Islands Council.
    Cllr. Jonathan Wills
    Lerwick South ward

  • P. Fraser

    • February 27th, 2012 9:22

    Really? Councillor Wills. Surely anyone who holds public office and represents Shetland then publically condones criminal activity, whether speaking in a personal capacity or not, should be asked to resign.

    Incidentally how much of a grant, (if any) did the SIC give to Shetland Catch to build their factory and install their equipment designed to defraud?

  • Graham Henderson

    • February 28th, 2012 15:38

    I have overheard Whalsay fishermen talking over the CB on several occasions and ‘cynical and sophisticated’ was not what I overheard. Cynical maybe, but sophisticated…
    Shetlanders have been diddling the Customs & Excise, dodging the Fisheries Dept. Lairds and other government institutions for centuries, so what is the fuss about. What else is new?
    Shetland Catch caught? Are Whalsay fishermen also financing the drugs industry using poly-tunnels to supply Shetland’s increasing need for cannabis and cocaine and how exactly do they keep them anchored in high winds? Has the police force checked out the strip of conifer trees at Gaza in Northmavine, known locally as the Gaza Strip, to check for tunnels leading to the well-known smuggling of contraband goods and gun-running associated with the heriditary bandits of this area. Or have crofters now turned to the growing of illicit weeds instead of the back-breaking toil of delling and voar-wark? Ultraviolet lights in barns and Lowrie-like old men puffing on pipes and out of their heads on skunk? I will keep my eyes peeled for poppy fields popping up this summer. I hope that the other boys at sea have covered their tracks better.


Add Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

200 words left

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.