A major investigation revealed illegal landings of fish in Peterhead between October 2002 and August 2005 worth a total of almost £8.5 million pounds, a judge was told.
Four fishing boat masters now face heavy fines as well as moves to confiscate their profits from the “black fish” trade.
Advocate depute Peter Ferguson, QC, prosecuting, told the High Court in Edinburgh yesterday that Ian Buchan, 54, of Peterhead – master of the fishing vessel Quantus – already had convictions for breaching quota rules. In 1997 he was fined £1,000 and three years later he was fined £5,000.
Yesterday Buchan admitted that between October 2002 and February 2005, having landed catches of mackerel and herring, he knowingly or recklessly gave false information about the quantities the Quantus had landed.
Also in the dock were James Duthie, 54, of Fraserburgh – master and part-owner of the Sunbeam – John MacLeod, 56, of Barra – master of the Charisma – and Michael MacLeod, 33, also of Barra and master of the Prowess.
They admitted similar charges, all brought under the Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Control Measures) Scotland Order of 2000 and the Fisheries Act of 1981. Although the law allows massive fines, the skippers cannot be jailed.
After their guilty pleas were recorded, the men were served papers to begin negotiations over how much of their illegal profits are to be confiscated.
Their lawyers are due to report progress in March.
The court heard that the vessels which go after herring and mackerel are the largest and most profitable in the Scottish fishing fleet.
There was so much over-fishing during the years from 2002 to 2005 that the UK’s quotas have been reduced to make up for it.
Mr Ferguson said arrangements were made so that only the offending vessels should be hit be the restrictions.
The courts are still in the process of dealing with 17 fishing boat masters operating out of Shetland who have admitted “black fish” landings worth more than £47m.
They have already been ordered to hand over a total of around £3m but have yet to be formally sentenced.
Mr Ferguson said that the four skippers in court yesterday had made some landings where the value of the “black fish” was greater than the catch they declared. He went on to tell how the scam was kept from officials who were there to monitor the landings at a processing plant in Peterhead.
A raid there in September 2005 revealed that when fish were pumped from ship to shore, some were diverted along another pipe which bypassed the weighing scales. Lever-operated valves decided which pipe the fish would be sent along.
Duthie, of Fraserburgh, admitted “black fish landings” worth £1,936,546. Buchan, of Peterhead, admitted illegal landings totalling £4,495,568. John MacLeod of Eoligarry, Barra, admitted illegal landings totalling £1,159,761. Michael MacLeod, of the same address, admitted illegal landings totalling £907,840.