The future of fisheries management in Scotland: 4. sustainable coastal communities

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This blog is part of a series of blogs examining key elements of the Scottish Government’s Future Fisheries Management Policy Intent Paper, which was published on 1 October 2020. The paper sets out the government’s response to stakeholder views on the Future of fisheries management in Scotland national discussion paper. This blog focusses on how the paper addresses the socio-economic sustainability of coastal communities.

Coastal communities face uncertain times. The potential impact of Brexit and the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on coastal industries is yet to be fully realised. This impact is likely to be particularly felt by inshore fishers who have seen markets for their produce vanish due to COVID-19 restrictions and face the potential of trade tariffs and barriers due to Brexit. Meeting the needs of these communities may require fresh approaches to fisheries management.    

Will quotas be managed for the benefit of coastal communities?

Scotland’s fishing quota is highly concentrated and has been criticised for not providing enough opportunity for smaller inshore vessels. There are historical and operational reasons for this quota distribution. However, there have been calls for changes in the way quota is managed to integrate social and environmental criteria in allocating quotas.  The diagram below shows how quota is allocated between the UK’s fisheries administrations.

Most quota in Scotland goes to ‘Sector’ vessels. These are mostly larger vessels targeting pelagic (mid-water) and demersal (bottom-dwelling) species. This quota is managed by Producer Organisations who are membership organisations made up of fishers. Some quota is also allocated to the ‘non-sector’. These are mostly smaller vessels.

The image shows a flow chart of the process for allocating fishing quota in the UK. The UK government apportions the UK share of the Total Allowable Catch to fisheries devolved administrations in the UK. Marine Scotland is responsible for dividing Scotland's share to the Scottish fleet. Most quota goes to the 'Sector' where Fixed Quota Allocations are attached to vessel licences and managed by Producer Organisations. Some quota also goes to the 'Non-sector' and are held by Marine Scotland in a collective pool. Individual monthly limits are set through the year in accordance with annual quotas.

The charts below show why a relatively small number of large vessels hold most of the quota. There are only a small number of vessels in Scotland capable of targeting and catching pelagic stocks which make up around 65% of Scotland’s landings.

Charts showing why Scotland's fishing quota is so concentrated. Pelagic fish account for 65 percent of the total catch by Scottish vessels but only 1% of vessels are equipped to utilise this quota.

The policy intent paper notes strong support from stakeholders for the need to “ensure that the wider economic and social benefits from fishing activity are realised” and the need to “maintain fishing opportunities in the community, shared fairly around the coast”.

The Scottish Government states these considerations will be “key drivers” in developing proposals on future “additional” quota opportunities. It also states:

“we will amend the current economic link licence condition to establish an economic link through quota gifting, or meeting a landing target, to ensure that fishing opportunities provide an overall benefit to Scotland. This will help encourage greater landing of catch into Scottish ports. We intend to have this in place by early 2022.”

The UK Fisheries Bill contains a ‘national benefit objective’ which requires that

“activities of UK fishing boats bring social or economic benefits to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom.”

It is not clear how this will work in practice but a requirement to land 65% of catches in UK ports is one approach introduced as an amendment in the House of Lords during passage of the Bill.

Furthermore, there is no certainty over how much “additional” quota will be gained for Scottish vessels through UK post-Brexit fisheries negotiations with the EU and other independent coastal states (primarily Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands). The paper states:

“We envisage in the early years issuing a call for quota where we will consider on a case by case basis the benefits to be achieved by allocating some quota separately from the current Fixed Quota Allocation (FQA) system. We will not allow this quota to be seen as an ongoing entitlement as opposed to a national resource.” (emphasis added)

It is not clear whether this will mean that large pelagic and demersal vessels already in possession of a large proportion of quota will not be entitled to additional quota. Or indeed whether existing quota allocation between different fleet sectors will remain the same. If so, expectations for a post-Brexit fisheries boom may not be met for a sector that has campaigned hard over the potential benefits of leaving the CFP.

How will coastal development be financed?

In the current economic climate, coastal communities face diminishing access to funding for industry and coastal development. After 2020, EU funding sources such as the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will no longer be available.

Scotland received 44% (€107.7 million) of the UK allocation of the EMFF between 2014 and 2020. The EMFF has been an important source of finance for economic growth in coastal communities, for sustainable development within the fishing and aquaculture sectors and conservation of the marine environment.

The interactive map below shows the total value of EMFF funding allocated to projects by constituency region.

Developing new approaches to raise finance and replace EMFF funding will be a key challenge. The Policy Intent paper states:

“Our immediate focus is on securing a fair funding settlement to replace EMFF for Scotland, and for that funding to be fully devolved to Scotland to allow us to design an approach suited to Scotland’s own circumstances and policy priorities.”

Going forward, we will build on the suggestions received and consider how a new funding system would work for all of Scotland’s fishing and seafood interests, along with wider marine priorities.”

The paper also notes stakeholders’ suggestions that funding should come from new sources such as fishing levies, offshore windfarm licences, renewables seabed leases, or a revised landing taxation.

In July 2020, the Scottish Government made available £9.7 million of Scottish Crown Estate marine asset revenues for coastal communities to assist with the impact of COVID-19. This was distributed to local authority areas which have coastlines, with funding based on their share of the adjacent sea area.

Strengthening local management of inshore fishing

Regional Inshore Fisheries Groups (RIFGs) are the main fora for providing a voice for inshore fishers in developing fisheries management measures. Marine Scotland states that RIFGs “aim to improve the management of inshore fisheries in the 0-6 nautical mile zone of Scottish waters, and to give commercial inshore fishermen a strong voice in wider marine management developments.”

Unlike Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) – their equivalent in England – RIFGs are non-statutory and therefore do not have byelaw-making or enforcement powers for fisheries management and conservation. Instead they are a forum for gathering views of inshore fishers to influence government decision-making.

Their absence of a statutory footing has drawn criticism for lacking transparency and involvement of wider marine stakeholders in developing fisheries management plans.

The policy intent paper states:

“There was positive support for our proposals to strengthen local management with Regional Inshore Fisheries Groups (RIFGs) taking on a more formal role in decision-making and an expansion of their scope to 12 nautical miles (nm) […] RIFGs can become the main vehicle for delivering our vision for local management that is strong, resilient and capable of evidence based decision making.”

The paper does not provide a commitment to provide a statutory basis for expanding the role and responsibilities of RIFGs. Without this, RIFGs lack the resources to enable strong local management of inshore fisheries.

Providing a statutory footing for RIFGs would lead to improved funding and resources. This could potentially improve opportunities for collaboration on science and data collection to inform fisheries management and conservation and encourage partnership working with wider marine stakeholders.

However, If their scope is expanded without a statutory underpinning, there is also potential for RIFGs to gain more influence in marine decision-making without corresponding duties for transparency and accountability.

Coastal communities have been hit hard by the impact of COVID-19 and face further uncertainty over the potential impact of Brexit. The short-term and long-term fallout from these impacts will require a rethink over how support is provided and how coastal communities fit into wider Scottish Government ambitions for a green recovery.

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

Blog header image by Andrew Buchanan on Unsplash