A north-east skipper who led government fishery inspectors on a bizarre three-day chase across the high seas has blamed the affair on miscommunication.
The Macduff trawler Aquarius, captained by 45-year-old Scott Shepherd, had been fishing off the Butt of Lewis when inspectors tried to board and investigate her catch.
But despite repeated radio foghorn blasts from the patrol boat Jura, Shepherd and his crew set a course north and led the government officials on a 120-mile chase.
The crew claimed they were oblivious to the whistles, and that faulty equipment meant radio calls and an electronic DSC signal which transmits a series of beeps to a boat’s VHF radio set went unanswered.
When the the Aquarius was eventually caught on the other side of the country, she was found to have a £53,000 catch of monkfish in her hold.
Stornoway Sheriff Court fined Shepherd £6,000 earlier this week for intentionally obstructing a sea fishery officer, a charge the skipper vehemently denied.
Last night, Portsoy resident Shepherd told the Press and Journal he and his crew were never fugitives from the inspectors, and put the incident down as a misunderstanding.
He said: “In the end I actually called the fisheries office from our boat and they gave me the Jura’s phone number. It was me that got in touch with them.
“So much for their modern technology.”
Shepherd went on to dispute Sheriff Kevin Veal’s conclusion that he had been trying to profit by dodging inspectors.
He said: “I’ve just been home and looked at the settlement sheet and there’s no financial gain. Certainly not after the fine.
“I’m really fed up of the whole thing to be honest. I wasted two days of my life in that court. I couldn’t get a ferry back from Lewis the same day, so I had to stay on the island.”
Shepherd, a skipper with nearly three decades of experience at sea, was fined £6,000 to be paid at £500 a month.
The court heard the Jura had been on patrol for illegal fishing off the north of Lewis on March 15 last year when her fishery protection officers decided to carry out an inspection of the Aquarius.
When the Jura’s hails went unanswered, they set off in hot pursuit of the 69ft-long trawler which moved between licensed sea areas overnight.
Now in a different quota area, the Aquarius began trawling for several hours, the court heard.
When the nets were hauled in early next morning, inspectors suspected no fish had been caught as there was a curious lack of seabirds which usually scavenge from the nets.
However, the Aquarius’s logbook clearly showed it had caught nearly 18 tonnes of monkfish in the area.
Inspectors then patched into the trawler’s electronic logbook and spied she was setting course for Scrabster in Caithness.
Still unable to establish communication with Shepherd, the fishery cruiser slunk past Aquarius and lay in wait at the harbour near Thurso.
Now within sight of the port, the Aquarius suddenly set a new course and the Jura was forced to give chase once more.
It was at that point Shepherd contacted the patrol vessel directly, explaining they had word from Scrabster fishery officer that inspectors were eager to get in touch.
The Aquarius was boarded and diverted back to Scrabster.
During Wednesday’s trial, the Jura actually gave a couple of blasts on her foghorn while moored in Stornoway harbour, blasts that could be heard by the sheriff inside the court.