Skippers behind one of Scotland's biggest fishing scams are to be sentenced.
Seventeen fishermen face unlimited fines when they appear in court, after admitting at a previous hearing that they made illegal landings of mackerel and herring worth £46.5 million.
The "black fish" scam took place between January 1 2002 and March 19 2005 at fish processing company Shetland Catch in Lerwick, Shetland.
The company was convicted of helping the skippers land undeclared fish at its premises in Gremista. It will also be sentenced today at the High Court in Glasgow. The offences, which broke sea-fishing regulations, were carried out to avoid the annual EU fishing quota allocated to boats.
Hamish Slater, 53, and Alexander Masson, 66, both from Fraserburgh; Alexander Wiseman, 60, from Banff; Robert Polson, 48, John Irvine, 68, William Williamson, 65, Laurence Irvine, 66, David Hutchison, 66, Thomas Eunson, 56, Allister Irvine, 63, Gary Williamson, 52, George Henry, 60, John Stewart, 57, George Anderson, 56, Colin Leask, 39 and Allen Anderson, 55, all from Shetland; and Victor Buchini, 51, from Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, were all ordered to hand over almost £3 million, under confiscation orders.
The convictions are a result of a seven-year investigation called Operation Trawler. It found that scales used on fish coming into Shetland Catch's factory were manipulated to provide false weights.
Company bosses were able to input fake wastage figures into a computer in the main factory, which was accessible to inspectors from the Scottish Fishing Protection Agency (SFPA), now Marine Scotland, and which would be deducted from the actual weight shown on the screen. The proper weight was displayed on screens in the engineer's room and in a loft area, both off-limits to SFPA officials.
In a separate case which was part of the same investigation, another firm, Alexander Buchan, was convicted of helping vessel masters land undeclared fish at its fish processing premises in East Quay, Peterhead between February 8 2003 and March 5 2005. An inspection in November 2005 detected an unofficial weigh belt fitted with "load cells" to the conveyor system at the point where fish entered the factory. Load cells detect the weight of fish passing over the weigh belt.
A deflector plate was used on the unofficial weigh belt, which resulted in the fish being dropped part of the way along the official scales. Because the fish did not travel over the full area, a lower weight was achieved on the counter. This method is said to have allowed as much as 70% of a catch to go unrecorded. Alexander Buchan, which is no longer trading, has been ordered to pay £165,000 under a confiscation order.
EU regulations state that when a vessel reaches its quota, it has the option to either stop fishing or to buy some of another vessel's quota which has not yet been reached. Any boat exceeding its quota faces disciplinary action.