One of Scotland’s biggest scallopers is facing record fines after admitting a series of fishing offences.

John MacAlister (Oban) Limited has been ordered to pay penalties and costs of more than £187,000 for illegal dredging off the coast of Yorkshire.

The company pled guilty late last month at Scarborough Magistrates Court to breaching both local rules and national laws but are understood to be appealing the fines.

The owner of the firm, John “The Dredge” MacAlister, chairs the scallop committee of the Scottish White Fish Association and has been a vocal defender of his industry against what he regards as “unfair” criticism from environmentalists.

The fines were announced yesterday by England’s North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NEIFCA).

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The regulator said it had “successfully prosecuted” both the company and the skipper of one of Mr MacAlister’s dredgers, Alex Murray of the Oban-registered Star of Annan, “following significant patrol and enforcement efforts” by its officers.

At a sentencing hearing, the NEIFCA said, magistrates had “found that there had been a deliberate failure to put in place and to enforce such systems as could reasonably be expected in all the circumstances to avoid commission of the offences”.

It added: “The defendants had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to 10 offences that had taken place between March 4, 2019 and May 28, 2019, which included operating in a closed season; using scallop dredges without the authority of a permit; exceeding the permitted number of dredges; failing to operate a fully functioning vessel identification system and landing undersize scallops.

“The Court also acknowledged the significant associated impacts of the offending on local static gear fisheries evidenced by the NEIFCA officers.”

Mr Murray, who lives on Lewis, was personally ordered to pay £3,633, the body said.

The court also ordered another company, Q Varl Fishing Co Ltd, of Devon, to pay more than £17,000 in fines and associated costs after another vessel, the Q Varl, committed two similar offences between late May and early June of 2019.

Mr MacAlister, the NEIFCA said, appeared in court as a director to represent this firm.

The Herald asked Mr MacAlister to comment on fines totalling £200,000 for his companies.

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Speaking by telephone from his offices in Oban, he said: “You are looking at two different companies. You need to get your facts together. One is an English company.”

Britain’s corporate registry, Companies House lists the owner of Q Varl Fishing Co Ltd as a company based at Mr MacAllister’s offices, the Star Fishing Company Limited.

This company lists John MacAlister (Oban) Limited as its person of significant control.

Asked for further clarification of his role in the two companies, Mr MacAlister responded: “I make no more comments to you. Your name is black in my book. Carry on and do it because I don’t care a damn about you.”

David McCandless, chief officer of the NEIFCA, said “We have worked very hard to manage and police the scallop fishery in the North East to ensure its sustainability, to protect co-located static gear fisheries and to minimise impacts on the marine environment.

“These prosecutions should send a very clear message that the courts take marine conservation and the sustainable harvesting of shellfish very seriously and the outcome is a recognition of the important work that IFCA’s do.”

The fishing industry insists that its practices are sustainable and that consistently high harvests demonstrate this. Some 15,000 tonnes of the shellfish are landed every year.

Environmentalists concede that scallop beds recover but say that repeated dredging is creating a monoculture on the sea floor.

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There are limits on where and how fishermen can scallop.

The Scottish Government hopes that new technology such as trackers on boats will make it harder for skippers – deliberately or not – to stray in to waters where they are not allowed to fish.

Earlier this year Michel Kaiser, the new chief scientist at Heriot-Watt University, said the time had come to find the places where dredging scallops does the least damage. He said: “We have marine protected areas. We do need space where we can harvest food.”