SCOTLAND’S seas have been sold off to wealthy “codfathers” who are using Brexit to further their own businesses, Greenpeace UK claims in a new investigative report.

The environmental organisation says the UK’s fishing sector is “vastly unequal and mismanaged”.

Using data filed with Companies House, Greenpeace traced the ownership of all significant quota holdings listed on the UK Government’s register.

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Researchers claim they have now mapped the distribution of the UK’s entire fishing quota for the first time, covering all devolved nations.

The investigation found that almost one-third of the UK’s total fishing quota is owned or controlled by just five families.

They also have minority investments in companies and fishing vessel partnerships which themselves hold a further eight per cent of the UK’s fishing quota, taking the families’ overall control of the sector to almost 40%.

In Scotland, companies wholly or partly owned by five families hold almost half of all quota.

Fisheries management is not a reserved matter, with Holyrood in control of quota allocation in Scottish waters. However, the area is amongst those which could be subject to a post-Brexit “power-grab” by Westminster, which is expected to publish a new blueprint for the sector’s future in the coming weeks.

Commenting on what he called an “economic, social and environmental tragedy”, Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, stated: “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.”

Dominant players in Scotland include Peterhead-based Lunar Fishing Company, which is owned by Alexander Buchan and family. The biggest quota holder in the UK, it is worth an estimated £147 million.

Others include the Tait family, whose Klondyke Fishing Company is the third largest quota holder.

In 2012, four members of the Tait family received fines and confiscation orders totalling more than £800,000 for their role in landing undeclared fish as part of a “black fish” scandal.

Operation Trawler – a seven-year operation launched over concerns from the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency about illegal landings – resulted in the convictions of more than 20 skippers over the landing of 170,000 tonnes of undeclared herring and mackerel in contravention of European rules.

Greenpeace found more than half of the top 25 biggest quota-holders are linked to this. And the international campaign group says the industry’s support for Brexit gives the issue political implications.

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The Christina S trawler, which took part in the Brexit flotilla on the Thames with Nigel Farage before the referendum on EU membership, is operated by a partnership which is the sixth-largest quota holder in Scotland.

It includes father and son Ernest and Allan Simpson, who were ordered to pay more than £850,000 in fines and confiscation orders as a result of involvement in the black fish scam.

Calling for “fairer” quota distribution to benefit communities and the environment, McCallum 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.”