BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 17 June '16

The Thames protest’s star trawler was involved in £63m fishing fraud

The flagship of a pro-Brexit flotilla that sailed up the Thames this week was caught up in the UK’s largest ever fraud involving illegal catches of fish and is now partly owned by one of the richest fishing barons in the country.

According to Greenpeace, the Christina S, a 72-metre-long pelagic trawler, is one of two large vessels meant to be the showstoppers in a river protest this week. It was organised by Scottish skippers who headed towards Westminster on Wednesday (15 June) to call for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

A major fishing scandal

The flotilla, joined by Ukip leader Nigel Farage and pro-Brexit fishery minister George Eustice, is supposed to represent British fishers struggling under unfair EU rules depriving them of their fair share of fishing rights.

Yet Greenpeace has discovered one of the UK’s largest holders of fish quota is behind the flotilla’s lead vessel and the same ship was previously involved in a major fishing scandal.

The Christina S was among a number of trawlers caught up in the so-called ‘black fish’ scam – a large-scale fishing fraud reportedly worth £63m. Over a dozen fishermen based in Scotland were found guilty of having devised an elaborate method for landing fish caught outside EU quotas. Judge Lord Turnbull, who presided over the case, branded it an ‘episode of shame’ for the industry.

The Christina S owner, Ernest Simpson, and his son Allan were given one the largest fines in 2012, £130,000 in total, after they were found to have landed undeclared fish at a processing plant in Peterhead, Scotland.

‘A trawler once involved in Britain’s biggest fishing fraud and now owned by a Sunday Times Rich List millionaire is an unfortunate choice to lead a flotilla supposed to represent a fishing industry on its last leg because of Brussels. But it’s also an unwitting clue to where the real problem lies. It’s not the EU but the grossly unfair division of fish quota rubber stamped by successive UK governments that’s threatening the livelihoods of thousands of small-scale fishers.’

JOHN SAUVEN
Greenpeace UK executive director

Millionaire owner

The Christina S is still partly owned by Ernest Simpson. Another company with a stake in the vessel is fishing giant Andrew Marr International, a firm that controls 12% of all the English fishing quota through a series of subsidiaries. According to 2016 Sunday Times Rich List, Andrew Marr and his family are worth £122m – making them the 825th richest family in the UK.

Andrew Marr International had a stake in the Christina S between 2005 and 2008 when the ‘black fish’ scam took place, but they were not among the firms prosecuted and there is no suggestion they played any role in it.

The beneficial owner of the other large trawler, the 40-metre-long Atlantic Challenge, is Caley Fisheries, which posted a healthy turnover of £18m in 2014, including over a half a million pound from renting out fishing quota.

‘Brexit cheerleaders like Nigel Farage are cynically exploiting the legitimate anger of many British fishermen for political gain. The root of the problem lies in London, not Brussels. Quitting the EU will only condemn the industry to years of wrangling over new fisheries agreements, with no guarantee of a better deal for fishers or stronger protections for our seas.’

JOHN SAUVEN
Greenpeace UK executive director

Many small fishing businesses have blamed a fish quota allocation that favours large over small vessels for their dire predicament. The distribution of fishing rights within the UK’s fleet is entirely the responsibility of the UK’s fisheries minister.

A Greenpeace investigation has revealed how just three large fishing firms have come to control nearly two-thirds of England’s fish quota, leaving thousands of small boats struggling to keep afloat.

Click here to find out more about Greenpeace’s work to prevent overfishing.