The skippers of almost the whole of Whitby's fishing fleet crammed into a makeshift crown court dock yesterday as they were fined more than £120,000 for wholesale breaches of quotas, putting North Sea stocks of haddock, cod and whiting at risk. The trawlermen from the North Yorkshire port said that they had been driven to desperation by EU restrictions which had left their trade "on its knees". The men, none earning more than £20,000 a year, said that commercial necessity had prompted a scam which used false book-keeping to hide the size of their catches. Trawlermen sold their fish at auction on Whitby quayside but then more than halved the number of fish in declarations to the Fisheries Inspectorate, Hull crown court was told. The men had admitted 55 deception charges. The court heard that the scam, involving the 10 captains, nine ships and two trawler companies, saw an estimated £475,000 worth of fish landed at Whitby in three months in the late summer of 2003. The cartel declared only £149,000.
Simon Phillips, for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that fisheries officers had monitored the scheme before boarding ships.
Ian Lawrie, for the captains and two trawler firms, said: "This is a sad reflection of the perilous state of the white fishing industry of a town. It is on its knees."