Five wealthy families control one third of Scotland’s lucrative fishing quotas, helping them to amass personal fortunes of more than £500 million, research has revealed.

According to the study, the families control 33 per cent of the allocated catch and land the £104m annual quota of pelagic fish using just 17 boats.

The environmental campaign group Greenpeace, which carried out the investigation, is now urging the government to give more quotas to smaller-scale, local fishermen whose activities have a lower impact on the environment, benefiting coastal communities and marine wildlife.

Research by Greenpeace shows that much of the quota allocated to the UK by Brussels under the European Common Fisheries Policy is concentrated in the hands of a small number of industrial fishing companies.

While small-scale fishing vessels make up four-fifths of the fleet, they have just 4% of the available quota.

 The investigation into the fishing sector has mapped out the ownership and distribution of the fishing quota across the entire UK for the first time.

It found that, in Scotland, five wealthy families own or control one third (33%) of the entire Scottish quota.

But when taking into account minority stakes, companies wholly or partly owned by these families hold close to half (45%) of the Scottish quota.

Charles Millar, executive director of Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust, said: “The misallocation of fish quotas in Scotland’s fishery, as unearthed by Greenpeace, is now plain to see.

“The vast majority of the fleet have almost no quota to work with while a handful of multi-millionaires hold enough to make them even richer.

“The Scottish Government urgently needs to alter the way that Scotland’s quota is allocated so that access to our publicly owned fish stocks is fairly distributed among local, low-impact, fishers right around our coastline."

The largest quota owner is Alexander Buchan and his family, who have run up an estimated net worth of £147m through their Peterhead-based Lunar Fishing Company which owns the largest stake of the UK’s quota holdings at 8.9%.

The Plymouth-based company Interfish, owned by the Colam family, is the second largest quota holder, with 7.8% of the UK total, and they have an estimated wealth of £130m.

Fraserburgh-based Robert Tait and family’s Klondyke Fishing Company is the UK’s third-largest quota holder, with 6.1% of the total, and they are worth an estimated £115m.

Hull-based Andrew Marr and family are worth an estimated £209m and control 5.1% of UK quota holdings.

Sir Ian Wood’s fishing business, JW Holdings, holds 1% of the UK’s fishing quota and has minority investments in businesses/partnerships that hold a further 2.3%.

The right to fish different species is regulated by the government, which hands out quotas to groups of companies and fishermen known as producer organisations.

While these groups are intended to work like co-operatives, the investigation has revealed a handful of people instead control huge swathes of the UK coast. The investigation also found just three companies own more than half of England’s quota while some fishermen hoard quota on vessels which never cast a net.

Nearly half of England and Wales’ quota is held by companies based outside the those countries, despite reforms to the EU’s fisheries policy which encourage national governments to allocate fishing quota on social and environmental grounds.

It is claimed that the ownership of quota by large-scale fishing firms also poses greater risk to the environment and fish stocks if more destructive fishing practices are deployed, an allegation strenuously denied by the families themselves.

Scottish Greens environment spokesman Mark Ruskell MSP said: “This investigation should serve as a reminder that much of Scotland’s fishing industry is in the grip of a handful of very rich people ... , many of them putting profit before science, happy to wipe the seas clean rather than manage stocks sustainably so we have food for the future.

“Fishing industry voices have actively encouraged the kind of deregulated free-for-all the Tories’ Brexit crisis is dragging us toward, posing massive risks to jobs and public services in our coastal communities. 80 per cent of what’s caught in Scottish waters is sold to the EU so the isolationism of Brexit will ruin our export economy.

“If we want a future for fisheries we need to distribute quotas to more local and sustainable operators. It’s an agenda that so far neither the SNP nor the Tories have shown any interest in but Greens will continue to push forward.”

Scottish Fisherman’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “Once again, Greenpeace is guilty of painting a completely false picture of the UK fishing industry to match its particular prejudices.

“Sustainability has for many years been the number one priority for the industry, and many sacrifices have been made to reach the present position where for key stocks catches are at record or near record high levels while pressure on those stocks from fishing vessels is at a record low, as testified by recent academic study.

“Studies also show that for pelagic species large vessels which require massive capital investment are significantly more environmentally friendly than a fleet of smaller vessels, not to mention safer in wild offshore winter seas where and when much of the catching of this type takes place.

“The only thing that has eroded our coastal communities is a blatantly inequitable EU Common Fisheries Policy which awards other fishing nations 60 per cent of our fish stocks.

“Instead of focusing on the events of well over a decade ago to carry out a hatchet job, Greenpeace should be crediting the industry for its forward thinking approach.”