Two fishing firms fined £1.6m over quota scam

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Two fishing firms received the largest combined fine in British maritime history yesterday after breaking strict EU quotas.

Hijos De Vidal Bandin SA from Spain and its subsidiary, UK-registered Sealskill Ltd, were handed a £1.62m total penalty after being found to have lied in logbooks and landing declarations to disguise the amount of fish caught illegally.

The judge described the companies’ actions as “systematic, repeated and cynical”.

Judge Graham Cottle added: “It involved flagrant, repeated and long-term abuse of the regulations, carried out by the masters of both vessels with full knowledge, complicity and direction of the Spanish-registered company.

“It was targeting what was, at the time, an endangered species of fish.”

Two Spanish boat masters – Jose Antonio Perez Garcia and Jose Manuel Martinez Sanchez – and two company directors – Manuel Vidal Suarez and Maria Dolores Vidal Marino – admitted flouting European fishing quota laws in British waters.

It is estimated those involved in the plot helped boost the companies’ collective finances by more than half a million pounds.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) welcomed the penalty, the biggest in its history, while Greenpeace said the case underlined the underhand tactics of some of the “rich, industrial-sized fleets” at the expense of “law-abiding, smaller” fishermen.

Truro Crown Court in Cornwall heard how the scam was uncovered in 2010 off the Isles of Scilly when an unlogged haul of fish was discovered on the Coyo Tercero, owned by Hijos De Vidal Bandin SA and skippered by Garcia.

Officers from the MMO investigated and discovered that the master had been fiddling logbooks.

A full MMO probe found significant catches of much sought-after hake had been illegally and misleadingly passed from one vessel to an other after being caught off the coast of Scotland, known as transshipping.

Brian Lett, QC, defending all the parties, apologised on behalf of his clients and said they were remorseful.