GREENPEACE has called them the Codfathers: the five families who own or control one-third of all the fishing quotas in Scotland. The environmental organisation has named the families in its investigation into the fishing sector in the UK and says the fact that so few people control such large swathes of fishing rights is hitting smaller, more local fishermen who make less impact on the environment. If the UK Government cares about coastal communities, says Greenpeace, it must reduce the power of these Codfathers before it is too late.

In many ways, Greenpeace’s outrage is understandable – Scotland’s fishing industry is facing an uncertain future at the same time as some people are making huge amounts of money. But the focus of any fury should be on the system itself rather than those who have made money from it.

The problems with the system go back to the early 1990s when the fishing quotas were first introduced by the UK Government. The Government could have chosen a number of ways of organising the system, but it went for fixed quotas per area with each boat getting a share of the total. This was fine initially but when the price of fish hit rock bottom and many boats left the industry, others bought up the decommissioned quotas and, over time, they have ended up in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

The result is a system that resembles the situation in the energy market where six big firms are in almost total control and it now requires fundamental reform. Greenpeace says there has never been a better opportunity to do this, but the UK Government could change the system whether or not we come out of the EU. A new system could attach quotas to individual boats for example but whatever happens, the new system has to be good for fishers by being equitable and fair, but by being transparent, accountable and balanced, it has to be good for society too.