Black fish was rife in industry across Scotland for decades, says convicted fisherman

Shetland’s pelagic fishermen are relieved their court ordeal is finally over, six-and-a-half years after the black fish investigation began. But there is also anger that they have become the focus of attention when over-quota landings were universal in pelagic fishing for decades.

One of the 13 local fishermen fined in court on Friday said the practice was so widespread that for a skipper not to do it would have meant he was the only one. “You would not have made a living,” he said, although he admitted it had gone on far too long.

He and others are annoyed that “all the publicity and all the ballyhoo” has surrounded the Shetland cases with little until now about Fresh Catch and Alexander Buchan Ltd in Peterhead, despite the fact that the raids took place at Shetland Catch and Fresh Catch on the same day.

Speaking to The Shetland Times, he said there was a suspicion that it had been engineered at a high level to have the Shetlanders “pushed to the front”. “Anybody picking up a paper south would just assume that this was a scandal of Shetland fishermen and Shetland Catch. That is what they have got firmly implanted in people’s brains and there is nothing further from the truth!”

He said herring and mackerel was being “blacked” over 30 years ago when he had started. “It’s not a scandal we set up.”

There is a strong feeling in the industry that the Shetland and Scottish fleets have been harshly treated compared to other pelagic fishing nations where black fish was rife but prosecutions have not taken place.

There were big raids in Killybegs, home of the Irish pelagic fleet, before they happened in Scotland. Prosecutions were expected in Ireland but instead the EU only confiscated quota.

The fisherman said that despite the fines and large confiscations it was “fine to get it all laid to rest” after such a long time.

At one point there were fears that some of the seven Shetland boats caught up in the investigation would be forced out of business. But he did not think now that that would happen, due largely to the much stronger prices for mackerel since the illegal trade was stamped out.

He gave an assurance that the pelagic fishery was now “completely clean” and will remain so, as far as his boat is concerned.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association chair­man Leslie Tait said Shetland boats lost out on more money in recent years from having quota confiscated than they gained from their illegal practice.

The former whitefish skipper pointed the finger towards the new bogeymen – the Faroese and Icelanders who have set “ille­gal” massively increased national quotas for mackerel which he said involves far more fish than the Shetland fleet landed illicitly.

He said it posed “a much greater threat” to the sustainability of the international mackerel fishery.

“There has to be a level playing field; we cannot have a situation where our fishermen are penalised for overfishing but fishermen from other countries are allowed to fish the same stocks without restraint.”



Add Your Comment
  • W Conroy

    • March 2nd, 2012 13:14

    I have to agree with the fisherman quoted as saying the Shetland fleet and The Catch were pushed into the limelight. Watching BBC Reporting Scotland on the 24th Feb there was NO mention at all of the Peterhead fishermen or Peterhead factories. The report did however state that “all but one” of the Shetland fleet were involved in the scandal.

  • Fiona MacDonald

    • March 2nd, 2012 20:46

    The Peterhead Fishermen and the Shetland Fishermen were treated equally by the media. Crooks, pure and simple – not content with the huge legitimate rewards, they wanted much more….

  • David Spence

    • March 3rd, 2012 0:02

    As well as being quota’s issued by the EU, there should also be a maximum size of fishing boat. A combination of exceedingly large fishing boats and technology (and yes, the corrupting greed factor) have contributed immensely to the depletion of much of the fish in the North Sea and North Atlantic waters.

    It would be interesting to compare, if records were kept then, the number of fishing boats, the average size of the boat, the predicted quantity of various species of fish within a catchment area and what was caught over a given period. I am sure records and data could be compared and a basic trend mapped out where patterns causing depletion in fish stocks could be analysed and assessed as to the best methods to be taken which would not impact severely on breeding grounds and fish stocks to the point where extinction was inevitable.

    Many people may say this was the whole idea of the quota system within the EU (I have to agree there has to be a level playing field regarding EU Countries breaching quota’s and rules agreed amongst EU Countries) but more stringent measures need to be taken against other countries out with the EU, as their actions will impede on countries within the EU in regard to those countries right to fish within specific area’s. We do not want another incident like the Cod Wars of the 70’s.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • March 3rd, 2012 21:37

    David you have missed your true vocation, you should have an office in Brussels and you should receive tens of thousands of pounds a year for dreaming up utter bull!!!t.
    Its amazing how people who have never been at sea are all experts and all know what is wrong with the British fishing industry. They all enjoy their haddock and chips, with not a thought to the thousands of British fishermen and shore workers who have lost their jobs since Britain joined Europe. Not a thought for today’s fishermen with million pound fishing boats to pay for and ever smaller hoops to jump through to appease our unelected European dictators. What we have read in the papers about the black fish landings in Shetland is the tip of the tip of the iceberg, and is nothing compared to to the illegal plundering of our seas by our European so called partners, and not forgetting our Scandinavian neighbours. I don’t condone what the Scottish fishermen have done but I for sure don’t blame them.

  • David Spence

    • March 6th, 2012 22:52

    Gordon, I don’t in any way pretend to be an expert in the fishing industry, the old saying ‘ You don’t have to touch the fire to realize it is hot ‘, but given the gradual decline in most fishing stocks, the diversity of the industry into new markets (farming of fish, mussels as a result of depleted fish and other sources of food in the oceans) all seem to indicate that the fishing industry as a consequence of larger fishing boats, better detecting technology and more importantly, the greed factor have all played their part in the demise of the fishing industry.

    I agree there are EU countries which flout the regulations and seem to literally get away with it in comparison to British fishermen. I agree this should be addressed and properly policed in regards to EU countries stamping out such illegal practices.

    The impression I get, no matter how you look at it, fish stocks are in decline due to over-fishing and the industry itself is doing nothing to address this problem.

    All we seem to hear is fishermen complaining against EU regulations, boats having to be tied up at the harbour, a large percentage of fish being wasted instead of being utilised greater within the ‘ human ‘ food chain (like what Norway is doing) and the massive increase in price of fish in the shop (is this hike in price due to lack of fish or greed?).

    The only way in which the fishing industry can improve is to have stricter regulations, conservation area’s where a total ban on fishing is implemented, heavier fines (fines where it will have an affect and not just a slap on the wrist) and confiscation of equipment (in serious cases the boat itself, assets ceased, bank accounts frozen etc etc …..and if they become redundant due to their illegal practises… be it). Proper policing of the fishing industry, conservation area’s, boats electronically tagged for tracking etc etc

  • ian tinkler

    • March 7th, 2012 12:26

    Lets face it the recent prosecutions were not of poor men. Their wealth and property would make the Lairds of old green with envy. Not Robin Hood characters but greedy criminals, feathering their own nests at the expense of others.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • March 7th, 2012 21:49

    David when i fist went too the fishing in 1966 the Grimsby trawlers I sailed on where larger than any Shetland purser. Those trawlers along with fleets of trawlers out of Aberdeen, Lowestoft, Hull, and Fleetwood are no more, making the British fishing fleet about a tenth of its original size. Therefore the size of individual fishing boats is going to make no difference to the amount of fish pulled out of the sea.
    You say the fish stocks are in decline David go down to the fish market and look at how much Cod is being landed. I bet for every box of Cod on the market there has been a box thrown back in the sea dead, because of the quota’s imposed by Brussels. How ever good the fish detection equipment on board is it can not tell you how many fish will be in the net when you haul it. And local fishermen have said that Cod is in abundance at the moment, but the unelected half wits in Brussels will not increase the Cod quota.
    Yes boats are tied up for a greater part of the year than they are at sea but they still have to pay out their running costs and pay harbour dues when tied up. Boats have to have regular refits buy new nets and gear etc etc the costs don’t stop just because the boat is tied up.
    Most of these fishermen started in the sixties with a small lobster boat and then progressed to a small fifty or sixty foot trawler and on to a multi million pound purser. Along the way they have created jobs for people on shore in fish factories, net mending and supply stores, ships chandlers, boat repair yards and the list goes on. So hardly at the expense of others or for the reason of greed, but to make a reasonable living and to provide employment for many many shore workers.
    David boats are tagged as you call it and British fishermen do get punished in the manner you describe because our spineless government jump when Brussels say jump. While other European governments slap the wrist of their naughty naughty fishermen and tell them not to do it again.
    Ian the wealth and property of fishermen has been earned as in years past they all went to sea in smaller boats and had to struggle to make a living. They had many a week either with no sleep through it, or no money at the end of it, they are only where they are now through hard work and perseverance. Then along came a bunch of corrupt Europeans and pulled the carpet from under their feet. Because unlike bankers and private dentists they don’t have a licence to print money, hence we have seen the tip of the tip of a very large iceberg.


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