British Skippers Busted For Scamming $99.9M in Illegally Caught Fish

The 17 skippers who admitted to taking part in an industrial-scale illegal fishing operation were fined a total of $1.14M this week.

Considered the UK's biggest fraud involving illegal caught fish, the men landed and processed approximately $99.9M worth of herring and mackerel over a three-year period, from 2002 to 2005, according to BBC. The skippers were able to sell the illegally caught fish while evading the European Union's fishing quotas through a sophisticated system of rigged scales, falsified logbooks and underground pipes.

"The motivation was purely financial. Those who were already making a good living saw this as a way more income could be generated and were prepared to participate in deliberate lies and falsehoods," Lord Turnbull, the judge who sentenced the men, told BBC.

Despite suspicions of illegal landing practices within that fleet, the men and the three processing companies involved with the scam--Shetland Catch, Fresh Catch and Alexander Buchan Limited--didn't get caught until authorities raided the facilities in 2005, after investigating the companies' accounts.

There authorities unraveled the system used by the skippers to unload thousands of tons of excess fish while remaining within catch guidelines set to preserve fish stocks. First, the skippers lied about the amount of fish onboard when they landed them. When their catch was pumped ashore into the processing areas, the digital scales used were rigged to show a lower number than the actual weight of the fish. Authorities also found that some fish were pumped through underground pipes to the Fresh Catch factory to avoid being weighed.

While the 17 skippers have already been forced to pay back almost $4.7M in profits, only one of the plants involved has been fined so far: Alexander Buchan Limited for $380,808, according to BBC. Fresh Catch, which admitted to landing $16.6M worth of illegal fish and Shetland Catch, the plant at the center of the scam, which pleaded guilty to landing $75.3M of black fish are still waiting to be sentenced. The companies face the possibility of having to pay back the profits made from this operation in addition to a fine.