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Skippers in £1 million confiscation orders


More than £1 million has been confiscated from four skippers involved in landing undeclared fish in a scam described as an "episode of shame" for the industry.

Ian Buchan, 55, was ordered to pay £1 million - thought to be one of the largest amounts confiscated from an individual in Scotland - for his part in the "black fish" scam while he was skipper of the vessel Master of the Quantas.

James Duthie, 55, was given a confiscation order of £99,000, Stephen Bellany, 49, was ordered to pay £64,612, and 64-year-old Oswald McRonald was ordered to pay £23,669.

All of the fishermen were convicted of evading EU fishing quotas by making illegal landings of herring and mackerel at Fresh Catch and Alexander Buchan, both in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, between January 1 2002 and March 19 2005.

The confiscation orders, under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and Proceeds of Crime (Scotland) Act 1995, were given at the High Court in Edinburgh. Sentencing was deferred until July 16.

On February 17 skippers and processing firm Alexander Buchan were fined a combined total of almost £1 million for their involvement in the scam.

During sentencing, Judge Lord Turnbull said: "The extent to which landings of fish were deliberately under-declared was at times truly staggering and in the case of some of the accused concerned, took place continuously over a three-year period. The result is an episode of shame for much of the whole pelagic fishing industry."

The convictions are a result of the seven-year Operation Trawler investigation, launched when the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, now Marine Scotland, became suspicious about widespread illegal landing of fish within the pelagic fleet. Pelagic generally relates to fish found away from both the shoreline and the surface of the water.

The illegal landings, which also involved the Lerwick-based firm Shetland Catch, were worth a total of £47.5 million.

At the hearing, confiscation proceedings and sentencing for a further six skippers were deferred until July 16, involving John MacLeod, 57, Michael MacLeod, 33, Allan Simpson, 42, Ernest Simpson, 64, John Smith, 37, and James Smith, 54.

Confiscation proceedings against Fresh Catch were also continued to the same date.

Solicitor general Lesley Thomson QC said: "Serious and organised crime can take many forms and these individuals were involved in significant organised criminality. They put their own financial gain first and sought to obtain staggering amounts of money with blatant disregard for the impact such large-scale overfishing would have.

"Our message is very clear that there is no place in Scotland for those who want a lifestyle funded by crime and we will continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies to use proceeds of crime laws to make Scotland an increasingly hostile place for these criminals."

Detective Superintendent Gordon Gibson of Grampian Police, who led the police investigation, said: "These investigations have been an excellent example of highly effective partnership-working by a number of law enforcement bodies across Scotland and beyond.

"I look forward to the sizeable sums seized today and indeed monies from the previous overfishing cases within this investigation being distributed to many worthwhile causes across our communities in Scotland."

Cephas Ralph, head of compliance at Marine Scotland, said: "Today's court activity was the successful result of long-running and complex joint operations into large-scale illegality at a small number of processing plants, initially uncovered during factory raids over six years ago.

"This action has prompted huge improvements in levels of compliance, but my officers remain continuously vigilant in monitoring the enormous quantities of valuable herring and mackerel handled by Scottish processing plants."