The future of fisheries management in Scotland: 1. setting the scene

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This series of four blogs examines key elements of the Future Fisheries Management Policy Intent Paper, which was published on 1 October 2020. The paper sets out the Scottish Government’s response to stakeholder views on the Future of fisheries management in Scotland national discussion paper.

  • This first blog will provide a brief overview of how fisheries is managed in Scotland and its economic and cultural importance.
  • The second blog will examine aspects of the sustainable management of fisheries.
  • The third blog will look at Scotland’s evolving role in international cooperation and management in fisheries in the context of EU exit.
  • Finally, the fourth blog will explore the role of fisheries management in maintaining sustainable coastal communities.

The context – EU exit

The transition period following the UK’s departure from the European Union will end on 31 December 2020. As of 1January 2021, fisheries in the UK will no longer be governed by the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The UK Fisheries Bill sets out an overarching framework for how fisheries will be managed across the UK, including joint procedures between the four UK administrations to set out UK-wide policy. However, as fisheries is devolved, the Scottish Government can also determine policy and introduce legislation governing the management of fisheries within Scottish waters.

Recognising that EU exit provides an opportunity for a fresh look at how fisheries can be managed in Scotland, the Scottish Government launched a ‘national discussion paper’ to gather views on a future fisheries management strategy. The Scottish Government intends to publish a Strategy for Scotland’s Sea Fisheries before the end of 2020.

Scotland’s fisheries

Scotland’s fisheries are diverse. Targeted species and fishing methods vary considerably in different regions of Scotland’s waters.

Broadly speaking, fishing activity in the North Sea contributes the most in terms of total weight and value. This is focussed mainly on pelagic (mid-water) and demersal (bottom feeding) species. These species accounted for £386 million of landings in 2019. Most of these species are landed in ports on the Northeast coast such as Fraserburgh and Peterhead and in Lerwick, Shetland.

On the west coast, most fishing is carried out by smaller inshore vessels targeting shellfish such as lobster, crabs, nephrops (langoustine) and scallops. These species accounted for £196 million of landings in 2019. The chart below shows the proportion of fishing activity by Scottish vessels in 2019 by vessel size, species targeted and by region.

Chart showing the proportion of fish caught in Scotland by vessel size between August 2019 and September 2020. Vessels over 10 metres in length mostly target pelagic and demersal fish species in the Northeast of Scotland. Vessels under 10 metres in length mostly catch Shellfish of the Coast of the West Highlands and Islands.

Fisheries Management in Scotland

Fisheries management is devolved under the Scotland Act 1998. Marine Scotland, a directorate within the Scottish Government, is responsible for managing the activities of all Scottish fishing vessels operating within the ‘Scottish zone’. This is defined as covering the North Sea and west of Scotland out to 200 nautical miles. Marine Scotland’s role in fisheries management includes the following:

  • Licensing of fishing vessels.
  • Setting catch limits through the allocation of fish quota and limits on fishing effort (time spent at sea).
  • Setting minimum standards (known as ‘Technical Conservation’) in the ways that fishing activity is conducted, for example by controlling the use of nets.
  • Monitoring fishing vessels while they are at sea.
  • Controls on the landing, sale, purchase, transport and traceability of sea fish.

Scotland’s sea area is vast, making up 62% (462,263 km2) of the UK’s waters and 8% (19,000 km).  of Europe’s coastline. There are huge challenges in managing Scotland’s fishing interests and meeting the needs of coastal communities in such a diverse marine environment. The following blogs in this series will explore these issues in more detail.

Damon Davies, Environment, Rural, Constitution and International Research Unit

Blog header image by Andrew Buchanan on Unsplash