Fines of nearly £1million for ‘black fish’ crimes

At the High Court in Glasgow last week 17 fishermen and a former fish processing factory, Alexander Buchan Ltd, were fined a total of £960,000 for offences relating to undeclared fish landings in contravention of sea fishing legislation.

The 17 vessel skippers falsely declared the quantity of fish they landed at Shetland Catch Ltd in Lerwick as a means of evading the annual fishing quota allowed to each vessel and Alexander Buchan Ltd assisted a different group of vessel skippers in making false declarations at its premises in Peterhead.

Hamish Slater, 53, and Alexander Masson, 66, both from Fraserburgh, were fined £80,000 and £50,000 respectively, while Alexander Wiseman, 60, from Banff, was also fined £50,000.

Another 13 men from Shetland were fined for their role in the scam. Robert Polson, 48, was fined £70,000; John Irvine, 68, was fined £80,000; William Williamson, 65, was fined £45,000; Laurence Irvine, 66, was fined £80,000; and both David Hutchison, 66, and 56-year-old Thomas Eunson were fined £40,000.

Allister Irvine, 63, and Gary Williamson, 52, were both fined £35,000; John Stewart, 57, was ordered to pay £15,000; and both George Henry, 60, and George Anderson, 56, must pay £12,000.

Colin Leask, 39, and Allen Anderson, 55, were each fined £3,000.

A £70,000 fine was imposed on Victor Buchini, 51, from Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire.

The seventeen men have already been forced to pay back almost £3m in profits they made from the scam.

Also at the same court today, three fishermen pled guilty to making false declarations of fish landed at the premises of Alexander Buchan Ltd in Peterhead, the value of the fish being over £3.5 million. Alexander Buchan Ltd’s plea of guilty had included the landings by these three vessel masters.

Furthermore, in a separate case, three additional fishermen pled guilty to landing undeclared quantities of mackerel and herring at Fresh Catch Ltd in Peterhead, two of whom also pled guilty to landing undeclared quantities of fish at Shetland Catch Ltd in Lerwick, the value of the fish landed at both factories being over £6 million.

Stephen Bellamy, 49, from Fraserburgh, John Smith, 36, and James Smith 54, both from Peterhead, Ernest Simpson, 64, Allan Simpson, 42, both from Fraserburgh and Oswald McRonald, 63, from Banff, are due to be sentenced in May, along with four others

Additionally, Fresh Catch Ltd, a fish processing factory with premises at East Quay, Peterhead, pled guilty to assisting vessel masters to submit false landing declarations of fish landed at its premises, the value of the fish being over £10.5 million.

Sentence on these six accused was deferred until May 18 at the High Court in Edinburgh

Speaking after the court hearings, Lindsey Miller, Head of the Serious and Organised Crime Division, said: “Organised crime takes many forms. These individuals may not have been involved in drug dealing or prostitution but let us make no mistake that they were involved in significant and serious organised criminality.

“Investigations are continuing into other landings and COPFS will continue to work with Grampian Police, Northern Constabulary and Marine Scotland to target anyone that would seek to flout the law.

“The legislation is there to protect the marine environment for the good of all and to safeguard the future of the fishing industry. These men disregarded it for their own financial gain and, in a clear example of successful working between the law enforcement agencies involved, have now been brought to justice and made to pay for their crimes

Detective Superintendent Gordon Gibson of Grampian Police, who led the police investigation, said: “The scale of crime committed by these individuals was at a level rarely seen before. The conviction and sentencing of these men today hopefully will send out a clear and lasting message that such criminality will not be tolerated. It was apparent during our investigations that these individuals totally disregarded any legislation to prevent this occurring and as can be seen from the landings made, they amassed huge sums of money through their own greed and today this caught up with them in a court of law.”

Cephas Ralph, Head of Compliance at Marine Scotland said: “Marine Scotland is determined to secure the future of the many coastal communities that depend upon Scotland’s seas. Anyone contemplating systematic law-breaking would do well to heed the warning and clear message contained within the sentences imposed today – that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

“Today’s successful court activity is an outcome that reflects the professionalism, dedication, and commitment shown by all of the Marine Scotland staff who have been involved in this enquiry.”

Commenting on the sentencing today of those involved in the black fish landings, Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson said:“The fishing industry in Scotland has built up a reputation for following the rules over the years that has allowed the Scottish Government to secure agreement in Europe for us to try innovative new practices such as the Catch Quota Scheme. This reputation has come at a huge cost and after extreme sacrifices from the fishing industry and the communities that support it, as people in Banffshire & Buchan Coast know only too well.

“It is disappointing that a small number of people chose to put the reputation and livelihoods of the rest of the industry at risk. However, as they have been caught and punished for breaking the law I hope that we can now put this behind us without the good reputation of the rest of the fishing industry in Scotland being tarnished in any way by these events.”

Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead has welcomed the penalties handed down today on what he regards as a ‘shameful reminder” of the culture that once existed in some sectors of our fishing industry. Mr Lochhead also said that of all countries in Europe these prosecutions illustrate just how seriously Scotland views illegal behaviour at sea.

Mr Lochhead said: “I welcome the verdicts reached today and pay tribute to the police and officers of Marine Scotland for their efforts in what has been a long and vastly complicated enquiry, ensuring that there is no hiding place for such appalling behaviour. These cases demonstrate Scotland’s commitment to transparent, sustainable fishing in our waters backed up with effective enforcement. It is important that all countries in Europe do what we have done in Scotland by stamping out such illegal activity.

“There is no doubt that these illegal activities are a stark and shameful reminder of the culture that existed in some sectors of the fishing industry in past years but they do not reflect the much improved culture we see today.

“The offences date back up to a decade ago and, thankfully, there has been seismic change in the attitude and behaviour of the fishing fleet, which can only be good thing in securing a viable future for the industry in Scotland.

“The judicial process has resulted in the fines applied today, while funds have also been recovered through Proceeds of Crime. In addition, annual cuts in quota for all vessels involved have been applied in recent years so that fish caught in excess of quotas are taken back.”