‘Drug baron’ laws used to prosecute skippers in biggest ever fish scam
Assets worth a total of almost £3 million have been stripped from a number of skippers involved in the biggest scam in the history of Scotland’s fishing industry.
Between them, the 17 made undeclared landings in Shetland with a value of some £40 million in the 2002-2005 “black fish” scandal.
The men have all pleaded guilty previously to falsely stating quantities of fish, and have yet to be sentenced. The charge does not carry a prison term, but exposes them to an unlimited fine.
First, however, proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act have to be finalised, allowing courts to strip offenders of profits from illegal activity.
Routinely, drugs offenders have confiscation orders made against them to take away ill-gotten gains.
But yesterday it was an unlikely succession of fishermen who appeared in the dock at the High Court in Edinburgh.
The advocate-depute, Barry Divers, announced to Lord Turnbull that settlements had been agreed in all 17 cases, and the judge merely rubberstamped the figures. The total reached £2,945,600.
The biggest single amount was £425,900, and the smallest was £2,700. The mechanism for calculating the sums was not disclosed. The total confiscated went beyond £3m by a £165,000 order against a company involved in the scam. The men are due back in court next month for their sentences to be imposed.
The scam came to light during a major investigation by the police and the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA), now Marine Scotland, centred on Shetland Catch Ltd.
The company is the largest pelagic fish processing operator in Scotland and one of the biggest in Europe, able to handle up to 1,000 tonnes of fish a day at its factory at Gremista, Lerwick.
SFPA officials had suspected for some time that there was widespread illegal landing of mackerel and herring, and a raid was carried out in 2005 at Shetland Catch.
“This search uncovered a system that enabled the masters of fishing vessels landing fish at Shetland Catch, with the support and assistance of people at the factory, to disguise the true weight of fish and furnish false information on their landing declarations”, the advocate-depute, Peter Ferguson, QC, had stated at one of the earlier hearings.
He explained that official documents, such as landing declarations, underpinned the quota management system which applied European Commission regulations for the conservation of fish stocks.
Mr Ferguson added that as a result of the overfishing, the UK exceeded its annual quota for herring and mackerel in the years 2002 to 2005, which led to a reduction in the UK’s quota for subsequent years.
Shetland Catch has pleaded guilty to assisting skippers in making undeclared landings, and is also still to have a fine imposed. However, it has not reached an agreement with the Crown over a confiscation order, and both issues were continued until March.
Another company, Alexander Buchan Ltd, pleaded guilty to similarly assisting skippers at its premises at East Quay, Peterhead. It agreed a confiscation order of £165,000, and, like the 17 skippers, is due to be sentenced in January.
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