Uncovered: the Rich List “Codfathers” dominating the UK’s fishing industry

Unearthed investigation shows that a minority of wealthy families control huge swathes of fishing rights to the detriment of local, low-impact, fishermen


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 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%) 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 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%) 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. (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%) 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.
  • 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% of all quota):

  • 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.

Northern Ireland (the UK’s third-largest fishing nation, with 9% of all quota):

  • Over half (55%) 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.”


Notes to editors

Fishing is a devolved issue as Westminster has delegated fisheries management, including quota allocation, to the devolved administrations.


Unearthed’s investigation used Companies House records to trace the beneficial ownership of all significant quota holdings listed on the UK Government’s FQA (Fixed Quota Allocation) Register at April 20, 2018, mapping for the first time the distribution of the entirety of the UK’s fishing quota, including fishing rights in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the largest fishing nation, Scotland. Unearthed ranked owners by the proportion of total FQAs that they held. An FQA entitles the holder to land a share of the UK’s “Total Allowable Catch” of a particular quota stock. The actual amount of fish that can be caught against a particular quota holding will vary from year to year. Unearthed classed quota holdings as “owned or controlled” by a parent company where they were held directly by that company, or held by a company/vessel partnership in which the parent had a stake of more than 50%.

The full investigation will be published on Thursday 11 October. Data for the investigation is available on request: luke.massey@greenpeace.org.

Rich List Families

  • Alexander Buchan and family are ranked 804 in the 2018 Rich List, with an estimated net worth of £147m. The family’s Peterhead-based Lunar Fishing Company owns or controls 8.9% of the UK’s quota holdings (739,153 FQAs), making it the biggest quota holder in the UK.
  • Jan Colam and family are ranked 882 on the Rich List (estimated worth: £130m). The Colam family-owned company Interfish is the second largest quota holder, with 7.8% of the UK total (643,927 FQAs).
  • Robert Tait and family are ranked 980 on the Rich List (estimated worth: £115m). The family’s Klondyke Fishing Company is the UK’s third-largest quota holder, with 6.1% of the UK total (506,953 FQAs).
  • Andrew Marr and family are ranked 567 on the Rich List (estimated worth: £209m). The family’s Hull-based Andrew Marr International owns or controls 5.1% of UK quota holdings (419,937 FQAs), making it the UK’s 5th largest quota holder. It also has minority stakes in companies and vessel partnerships that hold a further 5.4% of UK quota (445,981 FQAS).
  • Sir Ian Wood and family are ranked 77 on the Rich List, with an estimated worth of £1.7bn (a fortune built largely on oil and gas services). Sir Ian’s fishing business, JW Holdings, holds 1% of the UK’s fishing quota (83,463 FQAs) and has minority investments in businesses/partnerships that hold a further 2.3% (192,169 FQAs).

Operation Trawler / Black fish

The 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.

Photo & Video

For general photo and video of the UK fishing industry, see:


Media Contact

For the full data, information, comments and interview requests, contact:

Luke Massey, Press & Communications Officer, luke.massey@greenpeace.org, +44 (0) 7973 873 155.

Greenpeace UK press office: press.uk@greenpeace.org or 020 7865 8255.

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