Kilkeel black fish three ordered to pay back £1 million –

Kilkeel black fish three ordered to pay back £1 million Published:  11 December, 2007

THREE fishermen and their two fish selling companies have been ordered to pay Confiscation Orders totalling more than £1 million by a judge at Liverpool Crown Court, after an investigation by the Assets Recovery Agency.

The three men have six months to pay the Assets Recovery Agency or face jail sentences of between two years and three months and three years six months, the court was told.

All five defendants had pleaded guilty in January this year to a total of 33 specimen charges of falsifying landing declarations of fish into Killkeel, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, and Whitehaven, Cumbria, in a case brought by the Marine and Fisheries Agency.

The MFA detected inaccurate fish landings involving 12 fishing vessels, some of which were owned and controlled by the defendants during a period from January to October 2003.

After the convictions in January the ARA began investigating whether the men benefited from under declaring fishing catches – a practice known as landing “black fish”.

The Confiscation Orders were granted by judge Nigel Gilmour, who said the three and the Kilkeel-based fish selling firms, the McBride Fishing Company and the Kilkeel Fish Selling Company had made more than £15 million over six years from this criminal conduct.

Judge Gilmour held that together they had illegally made £15,115,204, broken down as follows:

· Charles Leslie McBride, 54 of Kilkeel: £647,334

· Charles Hubert McBride: £489,689

· Leslie Girvan: £1,003,686

· McBride Fishing Company: £380,242

· Kilkeel Fish Selling Company £12,594,253

Charles Leslie McBride, 54, of Kilkeel was ordered to pay £150,813; his son Charles Hubert MCBride, 35, also of Kilkeel, £224,348. Leslie Girvan, of Kilkeel was ordered to pay £498,506.

The McBride Fishing Company, of which the McBrides are joint directors, was ordered to pay £10,613. The Kilkeel Fish Selling Company of which Leslie Girvan is director was ordered to pay £190,776.

The court was told that the defendants face selling both their homes and their shares in the fishing boats, and that their two companies faced liquidation.

The judge also fined them a total of £10,625 – fines which he said reflected their ability to pay given that they faced the Confiscation Orders.

The five were the last of 24 defendants in the Kilkeel black fish case. Nineteen defendants have already been fined a total of £208,700 with £125, 500 costs at three previous Liverpool Crown Court hearing.

After the hearing MFA case officer Mike Parker said: “This was a serious case of cheating the system which is designed to safeguard fish stocks and thus protect the livelihood of fishermen. This type of prosecution is necessary to prevent the unlawful landing of species that are subject to quota limits.

“The confiscation of assets will send a clear message that the Govrnment is resolute in its approach to recover the proceeds of crime from such behaviour.”

ARA deputy director of operations, Charlie Dickin said: “This is one of three cases where we have worked alongside the MFA and shows our determination to recover the proceeds from all types of illegal activity including those that threaten sustainable fish stocks.”

In the four hearings at Liverpool Crown Court there were a total of 96 specimen counts against 24 defendants – including 77 for landings in Whitehaven – taken from 1,395 summonses brought for failing to submit accurate landing declarations for landings into Kilkeel and Whitehaven in 2003.

The total assessed value of the charges was £1.25 million, of which Whitehaven sub total approached £900,000 in respect of the landings made during 2003.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that the defendants were involved in wholesale cheating of EU fish quota rules in the Irish Sea. Those quotas limit the amount of valued species like cod, plaice, haddock and nephrops which can be landed in any one year. The quotas are designed to conserve stocks and share out catches among fishermen.

But the defendants – which included 12 trawler skippers and their owners, two fish selling companies and their officers – flouted the rules. They landed tonnes of quota species – cod, haddock and nephrops – in Whitehaven and Kilkeel in excess of their permitted quota. But their records – 12 boats’ log books and their landing declarations were falsified to show they had caught and landed less valuable non–quota species in the Irish Sea like gurnard, conger eel and dog fish.

Suspicions were first aroused in 2003 when an MFA Fisheries Inspector noticed that an unusual amount of non-quota species was being landed by fishing vessels at Whitehaven. When MFA inspectors subsequently made inspection visits to the port they saw quota species being landed and recorded as they should be. But when the inspectors looked at landing declarations recorded on the days when they were not present they showed the amount of non-quota species recorded rose dramatically.

In February 2004, three MFA fisheries officers, acting under warrant, raided offices of the Kilkeel Fish Selling Company in Kilkeel, and Whitehaven, accompanied by police. They seized fish sales notes and company accounts relating to fish sales by that company and the McBride Fishing Company in both Kilkeel and Whitehaven. A two year trawl of 9,600 paper documents began.

The offences came to light as the MFA Fishery Inspectors compared the skippers’ log books and landing declarations – which recorded non-quota species – to the records of the fish selling companies which detailed receipts from legitimate buyers showing they had, in fact bought cod, haddock, plaice and nephrops. is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.