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Black landings industry-wide practice

VETERAN fishing boat skipper has claimed the Scottish pelagic fishing industry has been singled out for punishment as 17 Shetland and Northeast skippers are facing tough fines for illegally landing black fish worth more £40 million.

In the High Court in Edinburgh on Monday, QC Murdo Macleod, defending 66 years old David Hutchison, of Hillhead, Symbister, argued that landing overquota mackerel and herring was an industry-wide practice, and not restricted to the group of fishermen before Lord Turnbull this week.

Prosecutors have already clawed back almost £3million by confiscating illegal profits, while the Scottish pelagic industry agreed a quota payback scheme with the European Commission, a few years ago.

Before Lord Turnbull will impose any fines, the fishermen’s lawyers have an opportunity to argue for leniency. The penalty laid down by law is an unlimited fine but the skippers cannot be jailed.

Mr Macleod said his client regretted his part in the industry-wide practice.

He said Hutchison first went to sea 52 years ago and had been a skipper since 1969 and was master of the Charisma.

Mr Macleod said his client had also played a prominent role in the industry, and as vice chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Fish Association (SPFA) had taken part in national and international negotiations.

The scam had grown in size during years when quotas were more stringent and there was more competition, said Mr Macleod. All the boats sailing from Whalsay began illegally landing extra fish.

The lawyer went on to explain how those involved in this week’s hearings landed their herring and mackerel at processing plant Shetland Catch, based in Gremista, Lerwick.

The factory has pled guilty for its part in the operation but is not yet due before the court for sentencing.

Mr Macleod said: “A further factor was a desire by the accused to support the processing plant in Shetland when higher prices were being paid in Norway and Denmark making landing in Shetland less attractive. The only way to land in Shetland was to land larger quantities of fish.”

Boats from both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic had escaped prosecution, the QC claimed.

“Hutchison feels an acute sense of comparative injustice. Not because he is being punished, more because others who broke the rules have escaped any penalties,” he said.

Mr Macleod added that the Shetland-based skippers resented competitors from Iceland and the Faroe Islands setting their own quotas because they were not part of the European Union.

The court also heard, once the “black fish” had been sold there was no attempt to hide the profits from the tax man.

Solicitor advocate Murray Macara QC, for Robert Polson, aged 48, of 17 Breiwick Road, Lerwick, told the judge: “I must make it clear, my lord, the income Polson has declared is income on both white and black fish.”

Solicitor advocate Liam O’Donnell, for Thomas Eunson, aged 56, of Westwinds, Symbister, said the purpose behind the quotas was conservation but stocks of herring and mackerel in UK waters were at satisfactory levels.

Also in court on Monday were Allen Anderson, aged 55, of Solvei, Symbister; John Irvine, aged 68, of Braeside, Symbister and Allister Irvine, aged 63, of Karinya, Symbister.

The skippers involved have all admitted breaching the Sea Fishing (Enforcement of Community Controls Measures) (Scotland) Order of 2000 and the Fisheries Act 1981.

The hearings continue.

Brian Horne