False hake declarations result in record fine
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
5th April 2003
An Anglo-Spanish fishing company was ordered yesterday to pay a record fine of £1.1 million for a prolonged fraud in which its skippers caught 25 times more endangered hake than they declared, making £1 million in extra profits.
The company operated the trawler Whitesands, the best hake-catcher in the fleet of Spanish-owned, British-registered vessels fishing off the west of Ireland, which declared only four per cent of its true catches.
Successive skippers of the Whitesands, a Plymouth-registered trawler, which landed into Spain and rarely caught a glimpse of British soil, fiddled log books with "breathtaking arrogance", Swansea Crown Court was told.
The company even carried on after the scam was uncovered and legal proceedings had begun. It then went into voluntary liquidation to try to escape being prosecuted.
The fraud came to an end only when the Royal Navy ship Anglesey arrested the Whitesands at sea and towed it to Milford Haven.
Plymouth Shipping, which operated the trawler, and Santa Fe shipping, which leased it, perpetrated the fraud over 46 fishing trips during which they downplayed the hake they had caught by 508 tons.
Hake is now so overfished that a recovery plan is being devised for it by the EU.
A jury convicted the Spanish owners of the boat of 26 offences including falsifying log books and bogus landing declarations.
Geraint Walters, prosecuting, said the fraud was uncovered when an examination of the boat's logs revealed a pattern of alterations.