Cornwall rocked by massive fraud over selling ‘black’ fish

Fishing skippers, owners and an auctioneer in the port of Newlyn, England, have been convicted of deliberately overfishing protected fish stocks for financial gain and ordered by a judge to pay £190,000 in fines with more to come.

Six skippers, an owner and an auctioneer were convicted of a total of 114 specimen charges of fraudulently selling illegally-caught protected stocks such as cod and disguising them as non-quota species which could be landed legally.

The number of charges brought, and the decision by inspectors to investigate the activities of a whole port are thought to make this the biggest case ever brought by the British government involving “black” fish.

Judge Philip Wassall, sentencing the 14, condemned the “well organised deceptions” whereby skippers, owners and auctioneers conspired to evade the rules of the quota system by falsifying paperwork.

The well-known West Country firm of fish auctioneers, W Stevenson and Sons of Newlyn, was also convicted of failing to supply accurate sales notes for the fish it sold but awaits sentencing in May.

It faces confiscation of assets acquired through illegal fish trading for a period of up to six years, under legislation enacted to seize the illegal profits made by drug dealers.

The fines are expected to run into millions, making this the most significant case of its kind.

The convictions are likely to have a sizeable deterrent effect upon fish auctions and private sales all over the country.

The packed courtroom at Truro Crown Court was told that during six months of 2002, the boats landed high-value quota species of fish such as cod, hake and anglerfish, but mis-described them on documents supplied to Government inspectors as non-restricted species such as ling, turbot and bass.

Fishermen argued passionately in court that their actions were morally correct when faced with the choice of either throwing dead fish back into the ocean or landing them as a different species.

The judge said he did not accept their point about discarded fish, adding: “A wholesale and systematic series of deceptions cannot be justified on such grounds.”

The court heard that the fish could have been landed legally by buying or leasing quota which was available, at a price, throughout the investigation period.

Drew Davies, 40, owner and skipper of the CKS, faces fines and costs of more than £13,000.

He said: “Newlyn is on its knees and this is the final nail in the coffin.”

A spokesman for the Government’s Marine and Fisheries Agency said: “This was an environmental and financial crime.”

This deception was done for financial gain - not to avoid discarding fish. And these activities both endangered fish stocks and penalised legal fishermen by depressing prices.

“The defendants denied their offending to the last moment which led to protracted legal proceedings.”


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