Friday, 26 October 2018

The Silver Darlings - the fishing Rich List pulling the strings on Scottish Tories

From my Daily Record column today:

Feeling the urge to join in the collective nervous breakdown of the Conservatives, Scottish Tories are going tonto about fishing.

The party’s Scottish MPs - a subsidiary of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation - wail how they will vote down Theresa May’s “transition” Brexit deal if it means fishermen have to stay in the Common Fisheries Policy a day beyond December 2020.

The date is important because the Tories would be slaughtered going into the 2021 Holyrood election without delivering on the Brexit pledge that won them Westminster seats in north-east Scotland.

Being a tartan version of the DUP might play in the north-east constituencies, but who are Scottish Tories actually willing to die in a ditch for in order to have the UK crash out in a no-deal Brexit?

The answer is not the port communities they represent but the super-rich fishing barons, who own the rights to all the fish in the sea.

Some great investigative work by Greenpeace confirms what some of us have long believed - a tight millionaires’ club run Scottish fishing.

The records show 45 per cent of all Scottish fishing quotas are controlled by just five wealthy families, all of whom feature on the Sunday Times “Rich List” of Britain’s millionaires.

This Silver Darlings circle includes Alexander Buchan and family, ranked 804 in the 2018 Rich List, with an estimated net worth of £147million. Their Lunar Fishing Company are not just Peterhead’s biggest quota holders, they are the UK’s biggest quota holders, controlling 8.9 per cent of all catches.

Coming in at 980th on the Rich List are Robert Tait and family, whose Klondyke Fishing Company are the UK’s third-largest quota holders, with 6.1 per cent of the UK total.

Incidentally, in England, nearly 80 per cent of fishing quota is held by foreign owners or Rich List families.

The records also show 13 of the top 25 quota holders were convicted for offences in Scotland’s £63million “black fish” scam in the 1990s.

This sophisticated fraud, involving false holds and secret landings, demonstrated it was Scots themselves who fished out our coastal waters.

After years of denial, the industry acknowledged their guilt and are making amends with conservation measures, simply because fishing faced extinction if they carried on as they did.

As stocks depleted and skippers left, the quota ownership became concentrated in fewer hands. But fish stocks are a national asset and not the preserve of a rich elite who would now manipulate the fate of the nation to maintain their wealth.

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government fisheries Cabinet Secretary, wants full powers over setting fishing quotas in the Brexit Fisheries Bill. To do what with exactly, Fergus?

The Scottish Government already manage quotas yet the concentration of fishing quota ownership dwarves land ownership statistics.

Fewer than 500 people possess half of all privately owned land in Scotland and there is constant demand for reform.

When it comes to fish stocks, a privatised national asset belonging to us all, there should be talk of revolution.

Any politician with a claim to be radical (that’s you, Michael Gove, and you, Nicola Sturgeon) would seize departure from the Common Fisheries Policy as a year zero on fishing quotas.

There ought to be a redistribution of quotas to encourage new entrants and break up the Silver Darlings circle.

Licence to fish must be tied to specific ports to revive towns, and inshore fishing protected from the big netters.

The barons and their political puppets say it wouldn’t work. Well, they would, the rigged system works well for them as it is.

Pelagic fishing for mackerel and herring is a lot of the Scottish quota and it is argued only the super-trawlers are geared up to fish for those in dangerous waters.

Yet with redistribution, with restructuring, fishing could be the one transformative positive of Brexit.

But don’t bet on any politician showing the Silver Darlings what “taking back control” actually means.

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