Shetland Catch black fish scam 'not used to line pockets'

Shetland Catch factory Skippers illegally landed fish at the Shetland Catch factory in Lerwick

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A firm at the heart of a major "black fish" scam did not use illegal profits to line the pockets of directors or shareholders, a judge has been told.

Shetland Catch Ltd has admitted illegal landings of fish valued at tens of millions of pounds passed through its processing plant in Lerwick.

A confiscation hearing has been taking place at the High Court in Edinburgh.

In a final plea defence QC David Burns asked the judge to consider the firm's role within the local economy.

Prosecutors claim that helping quota dodging fishing boat skippers to land mackerel and herring which they did not declare to the authorities earned Shetland Catch Ltd more than £6m.

Using legislation more usually directed against drug barons, the Crown is demanding that the fish processing plant should hand over £6,157,000.

Shetland Catch Ltd, who also face a heavy fine once a confiscation figure is agreed, are challenging the demand.

Judge Lord Turnbull has heard a week of evidence and legal argument and is expected to give his ruling next month.

In a final plea, defence QC David Burns asked the judge to take into account the importance of Shetland Catch to the local economy.

Defying quotas

The Lerwick fish processing plant, the biggest of its type in Scotland and one of the largest in Europe, was a major employer in Shetland, he said, and was already struggling to cope with substantial debts.

Mr Burns said the state had already got back some of the illegally made profits, in the form of corporation tax.

"It is not the case that the profits were being used to line the pockets of directors or shareholders," he added.

Shetland Catch Ltd has admitted helping local skippers to defy quota rules between January 2002 and March 2005.

Advocate depute Barry Divers, said forensic accountants reckoned that more than a third of the mackerel and herrings landed during that time was illegal, and valued at £47.5m.

Mr Burns said the discovery of the scam meant fish quotas were drastically reduced, turning profits into losses in subsequent years.

Last December fishing boat skippers agreed to hand over a total of almost £3m to settle confiscation demands in their cases.

In February, 17 skippers and a Peterhead-based fish processing firm were fined a total of almost £1m for defying quota regulations.

Sentencing them, Lord Turnbull described the scam as "an episode of shame" for the industry.

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