Greenpeace investigation reveals ownership of UK fishing quotas

By agency reporter
October 12, 2018

A landmark investigation into the UK’s fishing sector has, for the first time, mapped out the beneficial ownership and distribution of fishing quotas across the entire UK (including Scotland, the largest area by quota).

The study, by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative unit, reveals a vastly unequal and mismanaged system, where a tiny minority of wealthy families control huge swathes of fishing rights to the detriment of local, low-impact, fishermen.

“This stunning sell-off of British waters by our own Government is a national disgrace and an economic, social and environmental tragedy”,  said Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK. “Successive governments have presided over a monumental mismanagement of this precious public resource – destroying the livelihoods of local, inshore, fishermen, eroding coastal communities and encouraging unsustainable fishing, while allowing a wealthy cabal of fishing barons to become the UK’s Codfathers. How long before the Government stops blaming other countries, looks at its own broken system, accepts responsibility for fixing it and creates a fairer and more sustainable distribution of fishing quota across the UK? With the Fisheries Bill rumoured to be just weeks away, there has never been a better opportunity to do just this.”

The investigation found:


  • Over a quarter (29 per cent) of the UK’s fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families on the Sunday Times Rich List.
  • This group also has minority investments in companies and fishing vessel partnerships that hold a further eight per cent of the country’s fishing quota. This means companies holding over a third (37 per cent) of the UK’s fishing quota are wholly or partly owned by this tiny handful of wealthy families.
  • Over half (13) of the UK’s 25 largest quota-holders are linked to one of the biggest criminal overfishing scams ever to reach the British courts. These 13 businesses have shareholders, directors, or vessel partners who were convicted (in cases heard between 2011–2012) following the 'Operation Trawler' police investigation into industrial-scale landings of illegally over-quota fish (or 'black fish') in Scotland.
  • Those with the biggest hoards of quota can make millions leasing their fishing quota without casting a net. One company – which holds over half (55 per cent) of Northern Ireland’s quota – recently disposed of its boat and earned £7 million in a year from its quota while waiting for a new one. (See Northern Ireland section below).

Scotland (the UK’s largest fishing nation, with two-thirds of all quota):

  • In Scotland, the concentration of fishing rights in the hands of Rich List families is even more acute. Five families on the Sunday Times Rich List own or control a third (33 per cent) of all Scottish quota. When taking into account minority stakes, companies wholly or partly owned by these families hold close to half (45 per cent) of all Scottish quota.
  • In 2012, four members of one of these families, the Tait family, received fines and confiscation orders totalling more than £800,000 for their role in landing undeclared fish as part of the “black fish” scandal. Unearthed’s investigation reveals that the Tait family’s Klondyke Fishing Company is now the third-largest quota holder in the UK and has paid out dividends totalling £56m over the past five years. Peter Tait, 50, reportedly purchased Scotland’s most expensive house in 2014.
  • Brexit Flotilla: the Christina S trawler was a flagship in the “Brexit Flotilla” of boats which sailed up the Thames with Nigel Farage in 2016, calling for Britain to leave the EU to improve access to fish. Ernest Simpson (71) and his son Allan Simpson (49), who are partners in the partnership that operates the vessel, were ordered to pay more than £850,000 in fines and confiscation orders for their role in the black fish scam.
  • The Christina S vessel partnership, in which English Rich List fishing baron Andrew Marr also has a stake, is the sixth-largest quota holder in Scotland.

England (the UK’s second-largest fishing nation, with 24 per cent of all quota):

  • In England, around half (49 per cent) of fishing quota is held by Dutch, Icelandic and Spanish companies, with a further 30 per cent owned by English and Scottish Rich List families.
  • More than half (53 per cent) of England’s fishing quota is in the hands of just three companies.

Northern Ireland (the UK’s third-largest fishing nation, with nine per cent of all quota):

  • Over half (55 per cent) of Northern Ireland’s quota is hoarded onto a single trawler: The Voyager.
  • The Voyager Fishing Company is one of the top 10 quota-holders in the UK.
  • In late 2015, the owners disposed of this vessel and ordered a replacement. Despite not having a vessel for the full financial year following this, the company collected nearly £7 million from leasing out quota, reporting operating profits of £2.5 million.

Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, said: “Many of these companies were amongst those touting the opportunity to ‘take back control’ of our waters by leaving the EU. They’re taking politicians and regular fishermen for a ride, because they know exactly who’s in control. And the same politicians who slammed Europe for breaking Britain’s fishing sector are the ones restricting the majority of fishing quota to this handful of wealthy families. It’s a betrayal of Britain’s fishermen.

“When Greenpeace took the Government to court in 2015, they had the gall to say that the UK’s fishing industry was all in order. They were slammed by a European Court for claiming fishing quota was distributed in a transparent and objective way.

“With the odds stacked against them, is it any wonder that fishermen across the UK have been run out of business, or that coastal economies have collapsed and the communities that they support have been hollowed out? If the Government cares about coastal communities they need to use the Fisheries Bill to reduce the power of these Codfathers. We need a fair distribution of fishing quota to local, low-impact, fishers to boost coastal economies, reduce the environmental impact and help rebuild fading seaside towns.”

The Operation Trawler 'black fish' police investigation resulted in three fish factories and more than two-dozen skippers convicted of taking part in elaborate schemes – involving underground pipes and secret weighing machines – to land 170,000 tonnes of undeclared herring and mackerel, cheating European rules intended to prevent overfishing.

* Read Revealed: the millionaires hoarding UK fishing rights here

* Greenpeace


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