The company at the heart of the black fish scandal which resulted in 13 Shetland pelagic men being fined almost £500,000 claimed today its involvement had cost it millions of pounds.
Shetland Catch Ltd has admitted that illegal landings of mackerel and herring valued at £47.5 million passed through its processing plant in Lerwick between January 2002 and March 2005.
It is now facing action under legislation designed to strip criminals – usually drug dealers – of their ill-gotten gains.
At the start of a hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh, Lord Turnbull was told that Shetland Catch was resisting an attempt by the Crown to confiscate some £6 million.
Advocate depute Barry Divers said that was the sum which the company had made from the quota-busting exercise – more than a third of Shetland Catch’s profits during the years in question.
Defence QC David Burns agreed that the black fish had earned the firm £6,157,000 but insisted that was not the whole story.
The lawyer said that Shetland Catch had paid tax on its illegal earnings.
The fish processing firm also claimed that after the scam was uncovered, quotas were slashed in following years, putting Shetland Catch into the red.
Annual profits exceeding £3 million were turned into losses of more than £2 million as a result.
“A quota claw-back had a direct and initially catastrophic effect,” concluded a report by Shetland Catch’s accountants. The total, the court was told, amounted to almost £11 million.
“There was no benefit because of the effects of quota payback and other issues,” said Mr Burns.
He said the court should also take into account the thousands of pounds lost when Shetland Catch was shut down for three days during the investigation and the costs of re-structuring the company because of the losses.
Mr Burns told Lord Turnbull that if he were wrong the court should still “exercise discretion” based on Shetland Catch’s ability to pay.
“A confiscation order … should be restricted to a level which would allow the company to continue to trade and pay a fine which will inevitably follow.”
Shetland Catch cannot be fined until the question of compensation has been decided.
Last December fishing boat skippers agreed to hand over a total of almost £3 million to settle confiscation demands in their cases.
And in February, 13 Shetland fishermen and four operating out of the north-east as well as a Peterhead-based fish processing firm were fined a total of almost £1 million for defying quota regulations.
Sentencing them, Lord Turnbull described the scam as “an episode of shame” for the industry.
Shetland Catch is the largest firm of its type in Scotland and one of the largest in Europe.
It was brought to court by Operation Trawler, a seven-year investigation by the then Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency which had become suspicious about the tonnage of mackerel and herring being landed.
The confiscation hearing against Shetland Catch is expected to continue for several days.