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Pelagic skippers ordered to pay back £3 million

PELAGIC fishermen from Shetland and Fraserburgh who lied about the size of their catches have been ordered to hand over almost £3 million, on Friday.

Months of haggling about how much had been gained in illegal profits by the fishing partnerships ended at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Judge Lord Turnbull made a total of 17 confiscation orders, using proceeds of crime legislation which allows the authorities to strip criminals – usually drug dealers – of their cash and other assets.

Fish processing company Shetland Catch – the largest firm of its type in Scotland and one of the largest in Europe – which has admitted helping the skippers to give false information has still to settle the question of confiscation.

Friday’s decisions clear the way for individual skippers to be fined. Sentencing has been deferred until 23 January 2012.

Because the penalties for the fishing regulations which were breached do not include the possibility of prison sentences, the law demands that questions of confiscation should be settled first.

Those in court on Friday had previously admitted breaches of the Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Control Measures) (Scotland) Order 2000 and the Fisheries Act 1981.

The prosecutions followed a major investigation which uncovered the so-called “black fish” racket in Shetland. The offences were committed between January 2002 and March 2005.

The pelagic fleet is the largest and most profitable in the Scottish fishing fleet. The vessels involved all landed their catches at Gremista, Lerwick, where Shetland Catch Ltd can process 1,000 tonnes of fish a day.

Fishermen and their agents have to submit log books, sales notes and landing declarations for scrutiny by the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (now called Marine Scotland – Compliance) who are responsible for enforcing quotas.

Protection officers became suspicious that there were widespread illegal landings of mackerel and herring. Accountants were brought in to examine the books of the eight processing factories in Scotland and they discovered that the figures did not add up for Shetland Catch.

Speaking after the court hearings, Lesley Thomson QC, the Solicitor General, said:

“In committing these offences all of the accused put their own financial gain first. Make no mistake these individuals were involved in significant organised criminality.

“These prosecutions are part of an extensive and complex investigation undertaken jointly by Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary under the direction of the Serious and Organised Crime Division of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and with assistance from Marine Scotland.

“The investigation is continuing into other landings and COPFS will continue to work with police and other agencies to maximise the powers under the Proceeds of Crime legislation, to target anyone that would seek to benefit from their crimes.

The 17 skippers, their vessels and the amounts of their confiscation orders are as below:

  • Hamish Slater, aged 52 of Strichen Road, Fraserburgh, Master of Enterprise – Confiscation Order £425,900

  • Robert Polson, aged 48, of Breiwick Road, Lerwick, Master of Serene – Confiscation Order £371,300 

  • Victor Buschini, aged 51, of Kiln Lane Hambleton, Lancashire, Master of Enterprise – Confiscation Order £341,000

  • Alexander Masson, aged 65, of Strichen Road, Fraserburgh, Master of Kings Cross – Confiscation Order £283,000

  • John Irvine, aged 68, of Braeside, Symbister, Whalsay, Master of Zephyr – Confiscation Order £236,000

  • William Andrew Williamson, aged 64, of Westerlea, Symbister, Master of Research W – Confiscation Order £213,000

  • Laurence Anderson Irvine, aged 66, of Aviemore, Symbister, Master of Antares – Confiscation Order £210,700

  • Alexander Wiseman, aged 60, of Sandyhills Gardens, Banff, Master of Kings Cross – Confiscation Order £196,000

  • David Hutchison, aged 66, of Ankerhus, Symbister, Master of Charisma – Confiscation Order £140,900

  • Thomas Eunson, aged 56, of Westwinds, Symbister, Master of the Serene – Confiscation Order – £140,500

  • Allister Irvine, aged 63, of Karinya, Symbister, Master of the Zephyr – Confiscation Order – £120,600

  • Gary Williamson, aged 52, Norvag, Symbister, Master of the Research W – Confiscation Order – £118,500

  • George Andrew Henry, aged 60, of Noonsbrough, Clousta, Master of the Adenia – Confiscation Order – £51,300

  • John William Stewart, aged 56, of King Harald Street, Lerwick, Master of the Antarctic – Confiscation Order – £41,300

  • George Anderson, aged 55, of Harbourview, Symbister, Master of the Adenia – Confiscation Order – £40,700

  • Colin Andrew Leask, aged 38, of Vaarhjem, Symbister, Master of the Antarctic II – Confiscation Order – £12,000

  • Allen Anderson, aged 55, of Solvei, Symbister, Master of the Serene – Confiscation Order – £2,700

Also at the same court, in a separate case, Alexander Buchan Limited, which formerly operated a fish processing factory in Peterhead, pled guilty to assisting vessel skippers in making false declarations of fish which had been landed at their factory premises between 2003 and 2005. 

The company admitted that it had made £165,000 from the subsequent sale of the illegally landed fish and was ordered to pay back that sum.

Brian Horne