A ‘sell-off of British waters’Ethical Food & Drink News & Features
A landmark investigation into the UK’s fishing sector has, for the first time, mapped out the beneficial ownership and distribution of fishing quota across the entire UK (including Scotland, the largest area by quota).
The study, by Greenpeace’s investigative unit, Unearthed, 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’, Will added.
Criminal overfishing scams
The investigation found that over a quarter (29%) 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 8% of the country’s fishing quota.
This means companies holding over a third (37%) of the UK’s fishing quota is 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%) of Northern Ireland’s quota – recently disposed of its boat and earned £7m in a year from its quota while waiting for a new one.
5 families control 1/3 of Scotland’s 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%) of all Scottish quota.
When taking into account minority stakes, companies wholly or partly owned by these families hold close to half (45%) of all Scottish quota.
‘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.’
Head of oceans at Greenpeace UK
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.
Taking politicians ‘for a ride’
In England, around half (49%) of fishing quota is held by Dutch, Icelandic and Spanish companies, with a further 30% owned by English and Scottish Rich List families.
More than half (53%) of England’s fishing quota is in the hands of just three companies.
Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, said many of these companies were among 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’, Will said. ‘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.’