£47m ‘black fish’ scam exposed as ban lifted

SHETLAND fishing skippers and a fish processing company were involved in a £47.5 million “black fish” scam to cheat European Union fishing quota restrictions.

The extent of the false declarations to the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency can be revealed for the first time after judge Lord Turnbull yesterday agreed at a hearing at the High Court in Glasgow to lift a banning order.

Seventeen Shetland skippers have admitted their involvement in the scam to allow them to land more than their agreed quota of mackerel and herring. Others have still to come to court.

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Fish processing company Shetland Catch Ltd in Lerwick, where the 17 skippers landed their fish, have also pleaded guilty to helping the men make the undeclared landings.

Lord Turnbull also allowed the method used by the company and skippers to cheat the SFPA to be revealed for the first time.

Shetland Fisheries had weighing scales linked to computer screens showing the weight of fish landed.

The screen in the main floor of the fisheries, which was viewed by SFPA officials, was set to give a lower weight of fish than had been landed.

The proper weight was displayed on a screen in the engineer’s room which was in a part of the operation off-limits to SFPA officials.

Until now, the press had been banned from reporting this under a contempt of court order.

Earlier this month skippers who lied about the size of catches from their boats were ordered to hand over almost £3m in confiscation orders. Lord Turnbull made 17 orders at the High Court in Edinburgh, over “black fish”. The decision is set to allow the skippers to be fined next month.

Shetland Catch has still to settle the question of confiscation. The company has been taken over since it was caught helping to land black fish in the Northeast port between February 2003 and March 2005.

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It agreed to hand over £165,000 of illegal profits and is facing sentence next month.

Lord Turnbull agreed to lift the reporting ban after being addressed by Ronald Clancy, QC, on behalf on the BBC who asked for the total value of the catch and the method by which the scam was carried out to be revealed.