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More pelagic fishermen convicted

TWO more pelagic skippers pled guilty to landing millions of pounds worth of mackerel and herring illegally at the High Court in Edinburgh on Monday morning.

Victor Buschini, aged 50, and Hamish Slater, 52, both masters of the Fraserburgh trawler Enterprise admitted falsely declaring fish they landed at the Shetland Catch processing factory in Lerwick between 2002 and 2005.

Buschini, of Hambleton, Poulton-Le-Fylde, Lancashire, admitted 44 illegal landings worth £3,220,258.78, while Slater, whose address was listed as Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, admitted 47 such landings worth £3,976,198.86. The amount of fish landed would have been between 14,000 and 23,000 tonnes.

Their conviction follows the guilty plea in August by six Shetland skippers on similar charges of landing black fish worth more than £15 million at Shetland Catch. Two more skipper face charges for the same offence.

Shetland Catch has also pled guilty to assisting these skippers making these undeclared landings.

The convictions follow a major investigation by the government, the police and the Crown Office.

The fishing industry has said that these men have all paid back the fish they caught illegally through reduced quota and that a new culture exists, which sees both Slater and Buschini registered by the industry body Seafish under their Responsible Fishing Scheme for good practice.

Speaking after the court hearing, Scott Pattison, director of operations at the Crown Office, said: “This prosecution of these individuals follows that of six others in August for similar offences and is part of an extensive and complex investigation undertaken jointly by Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary under the direction of the National Casework Division of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and with assistance from Marine Scotland,

“The investigation is continuing into other landings but the successful prosecution of these additional accused is a further example of successful joint working between law enforcement agencies.

“This is not a victimless crime. The consequences of overfishing on this scale are far reaching and the impact on fish stocks and the marine environment is potentially devastating.

“The legislation is to protect the marine environment for the good of all and to safeguard the fishing industry.  We will continue working with police and other agencies to prosecute those indivduals or organisations who disregard it for their personal gain.”

Detective superintendent Gordon Gibson, of Grampian Police, who led the investigation, said: “As can be seen by the level of the pleas tendered today, this reflects the very serious nature of what has been investigated over a lengthy period by my officers.

“I am appreciative of the work carried out by both Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary and the assistance from Marine Scotland which has ensured the highest quality of case to be presented to the Crown.

“This could only have been achieved by excellent joint working by all parties throughout the duration of this aspect of the overall investigation.”

Cephas Ralph, head of compliance at Marine Scotland said: “Marine Scotland is determined to secure a sustainable future for the sea fishing industry and the coastal communities they support.  Illegal fishing is a crime committed against the marine environment and the many honest fishermen who abide by the regulations and fish responsibly.”