Caught! Scottish skippers fined £720,000 over fishing fraud

 

Seventeen Scottish skippers and a processing firm were fined £720,000 yesterday for their part in Britain's biggest fishing scam.

The "black fish" fraud netted the group millions of pounds as they cooperated with buyers to evade EU quotas and illegally sell vast amounts of mackerel and herring. Three firms, one in Shetland and two in Peterhead, were involved in the fraud, worth almost £63m.

The sophisticated scam involved the manipulation of the scales that weighed the skippers' haul at processing factories. Large catches were deliberately recorded as weighing less than they did, which allowed the fisherman to sell more than quotas allowed.

Judge Lord Turnbull called the scam a "cynical and sophisticated" operation which had the "connivance of a number of different interested parties". He described it as "an episode of shame" for the pelagic fishing industry.

Hamish Slater, 53, and Alexander Masson, 66, both from Fraserburgh, were fined a respective £80,000 and £50,000, while Alexander Wiseman, 60, from Banff, was also fined £50,000. Another 13 men from Shetland were fined for their role in the scam.

One of the processing companies, Alexander Buchan, was fined £240,000 for helping the vessel masters land the undeclared fish. The pelagic fishermen, who committed the offences to evade the annual EU fishing quota, had already been ordered to hand over almost £3m in confiscation orders at a previous court hearing.

Since 1970, quotas have been put in place by the EU to ease the pressure on overexploited fish stocks. These quotas were eased significantly after a meeting of EU fishery ministers in December 2011, drawing an angry reaction from conservationists who accused them of ignoring scientific advice. The convictions came as the result of a seven-year investigation, Operation Trawler, after the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA), now Marine Scotland, became suspicious about widespread illegal landing of fish within the pelagic fleet.

Shetland Catch premises were searched on 27 September 2005 and officials found that scales used to weigh fish coming into the factory had been manipulated to provide false weights.

Management was able to put fake wastage figures into a computer in the main factory, accessible to inspectors, which would be deducted from the actual weight shown on the screen.

Passing sentence, Lord Turnbull said the proceedings brought "embarrassment and shame" to the skippers and their families. He said: "The system through which this was achieved was both cynical and sophisticated and involved the connivance of a number of different interested parties, some of whom have benefited but have not been prosecuted."

The Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said the scam was a "stark and shameful" reminder of a culture that "existed in some sectors of the fishing industry in past years".

Three more fishermen pleaded guilty yesterday in a separate case in the same investigation. James Smith, 54, from Fraserburgh, John Smith, 36, from Peterhead and Stephen Bellamy, 59, from Fraserburgh, all admitted landing undeclared fish at Fresh Catch in Peterhead and at Shetland Catch in Lerwick.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones