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Scotland's Marine Atlas: Information for The National Marine Plan

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FISHING

What, why, where?

Fishing provides a source of fresh, nutritious food and supports remote rural communities around Scotland's coast. There are also strong export markets for Scottish fish.

Most of the fish stocks of interest to the Scottish sea fisheries industry span international boundaries and are often caught in mixed fisheries. This can lead to complicated interactions between regulations applied by different countries to individual species.

Managing stocks

For stocks which occur exclusively in the waters of European Union ( EU) Member States, the amount of fish caught is regulated by the EU through the Common Fisheries Policy ( CFP). For stocks that move between EU and third country waters, the Commission negotiates fishing opportunities with the relevant country or countries. The key third country agreements for Scotland are with Norway (for the North Sea) and Iceland and the Faroes (for pelagic stocks).

In international waters to the west of Scotland, beyond British Fisheries Limits, management of stocks is agreed through the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission ( NEAFC). Between EU Member States Total Allowable Catches ( TACs) are allocated according to historic fishing patterns. For joint stocks shared between EU and non- EU countries, allocations are shared between the signatories to the agreement according to the principles laid down by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS).

Decisions are based on scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea ( ICES).

Fishing activity changes to reflect scientific advice, the location of fish and the need for possible closure of areas. Up-to-date information on temporary closures can be found on the Scottish Government website (1).

Data collection

All landings are reported according to the regions in which fish were caught (known as ICES squares). This catch information, together with independent fish surveys, form the basis of the data used to assess the amount of fish that can be caught each year. Larger fishing vessels (15m and over) are fitted with a Vessel Monitoring System ( VMS), which allows for more detailed information about the location of fishing activity. Smaller vessels are currently not covered by VMS. Landings data from Scottish vessels are published annually in the Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics (2).

Scottish fishing fleet

The Scottish fishing fleet can be split into four broad sectors:

  • The pelagic fleet which mainly targets herring and mackerel. It is comprised of a relatively small number of large, profitable vessels.
  • The demersal or whitefish fleet targets bottom-dwelling fish in two types of fishery: the roundfish fishery in the North Sea and west of Scotland (which comprises cod, haddock, whiting and saithe) and the species found in the deeper water to the north and west of Scotland.
  • The mixed demersal and shellfish fleet are the boats from the whitefish fleet which move between whitefish and Nephrops fisheries (prawn, or langoustine, fisheries).
  • The shellfish fleet is those vessels that specialise in shellfish such as scallops and Nephrops. They tend to operate within the inshore waters of the west coast, east coast, Borders, Fife, and south west of Scotland. A high proportion of these vessels are under 10m.

The following species make up the bulk of Scottish catches: mackerel and herring (pelagic); haddock, cod and monkfish (whitefish); Scottish langoustine ( Nephrops); crabs and scallops (other shellfish).

Fishing ports

The largest part of the commercial fishing industry operates from ports located in the north-east of Scotland, especially around Peterhead and Fraserburgh. This region has both the greatest volume and value of landings, as well as a greater concentration of local fish processors and an important level of local economic dependence on fishing activity (see Economic Analysis Section). Shetland has a fishing sector on a similar scale to that of the north-east and provides important landing facilities for many of Europe's pelagic fleets. The north coast and Orkney support a small local industry and also have some busy fishing ports, notably Scrabster and Wick.

In the north-west, Lochinver and Kinlochbervie are important ports for access to the fishing ground to the north-west of Scotland and often receive landings from fishing vessels from other EU countries that operate to the west of Scotland. The western coast still supports numerous small ports and harbours, the largest of which are Ullapool, Oban, Portree and Mallaig. Elsewhere, in the south-east and south-west, numerous small ports continue to support a small local industry based on small vessels fishing inshore grounds, mostly for shellfish. Most of the fishing industry on the west coast is now dependent upon shellfish.

Fishing effort has decr­eased significantly since 2000 due to continuing restrictions on fishing activity in order to promote stock recovery.

To obtain a fishing licence for the first time, an entitlement has to be secured from a current licence holder. An entitlement becomes available when a licence is no longer attached to an active fishing vessel or it may be transferred alongside the purchase of a fishing vessel.

Contribution to the economy

In 2009 366,569 tonnes of fish with a first sale value of £416 million were landed from Scottish waters (3). This figure includes all fish caught by UK vessels in Scottish waters and fish caught by non- UK vessels in Scottish waters and landed into the UK. Catches by non- UK vessels landing outside the UK are not available below the level of ICES sub-divisions so cannot be attributed to the ICES squares (as shown in the maps) or totalled into Scottish sea areas, as shown on the map opposite.

Pelagic trawler fishing vessel

Pelagic trawler fishing vessel
© SNH

Number of fishermen employed on Scottish based vessels

Number of fishermen employed on Scottish based vessels
Source: Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics, 2009 (2)

Pressures and impacts on Scotland's socio-economics

Positive

  • Long and significant fishing history has large impact on the culture, due to Scotland's proximity to productive fishing grounds
  • Employment (full and part time), often in remote communities, for catching and processing sectors
  • High quality locally sourced, nutritious source of protein
  • Role in achieving food security
  • Exports contribute to international trade

Negative

  • Fishing often competes for sea space with other marine economic activities
  • Most fish caught in Scottish waters is exported while most fish eaten within Scotland is imported

Source: Based on CP2 PSEG Feeder Report section 3.5.6 (4) and UK Marine Policy Statement (5)

Tonnage (live weight tonnes) and value of fish caught in Scottish waters (2005-2009) and landed (2009) at Scottish ports

Tonnage (live weight tonnes) and value of fish caught in Scottish waters (2005-2009) and landed (2009) at Scottish ports

Value of fish caught in Scottish sea areas, 2009

Value of fish caught in Scottish sea areas, 2009

Tonnage of fish caught in Scottish sea areas, 2009

Tonnage of fish caught in Scottish sea areas, 2009

Source: Marine Scotland
Includes landings by all UK vessels (of all lengths) and landings by foreign vessels into the UK. Excludes fish caught in Scottish sea areas
by non- UK vessels and landed outside the UK.

% catch by value in each sea area

% catch by value in each sea area
Source: Marine Scotland

% catch by value for all Scottish waters

% catch by value for all Scottish waters
Source: Marine Scotland

Effort of selected regulated gears (in KwDays) in West of Scotland, Scottish vessels over 10m

Effort of selected regulated gears (in KwDays) in West of Scotland, Scottish vessels over 10m
Source: Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics, 2009 (2)
Note: these two gears are the main mobile gears used by the Scottish fleet

Effort of selected regulated gears (in KwDays) in North Sea, Scottish vessels over 10m

Effort of selected regulated gears (in KwDays) in North Sea, Scottish vessels over 10m
Source: Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics, 2009 (2)
Note: these are the four main gears used in North Sea by Scottish fleet.

Active Scottish based vessels by main fishing method

Vessel Type

2000

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

10 metres and under

1,593

1,567

1,518

1,494

1,492

1,483

Over 10 metres:

Demersal

466

308

300

294

295

274

Pelagic

38

25

21

22

24

25

Shellfish

445

386

385

381

394

392

Total

2,542

2,286

2,224

2,191

2,205

2,174

Source: Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics, 2009 (2)
Note: Figures at 31 December each year.

Under 10m fishing vessel

Under 10m fishing vessel
© SNH

Prawn tails

Prawn tails
© SNH

Average effort (kw Days) in Scotland's seas by all UK vessels (all lengths) 2005-2009

Average effort (kw Days) in Scotland's seas by all UK vessels (all lengths) 2005-2009
Source: Marine Scotland
Note: no kw Days effort data for non- UK vessels. Rectangles where no effort by UK vessels was recorded are not coloured.

Average value of landings from Scotland's seas 2005-2009

Average value of landings from Scotland's seas 2005-2009
Source: Marine Scotland (3)
Note: excludes landings data for non- UK vessels landing outside the UK. Rectangles where no catch was recorded are not coloured

Average number of days per year of foreign vessel fishing activity in Scottish waters per ICES square (2005 - 2009)

Average number of days per year of foreign vessel fishing activity in Scottish waters per ICES square (2005 - 2009)
Source: Marine Scotland
Based on VMS positions received every two hours from EU vessels and every hour from third country vessels.

Pressures and impacts on the environment

Pressure theme: Other physical pressures
Pressure: Introduction of litter, remnants of damaged nets
Impact: Ghost fishing and entanglement of marine animals. Mainly an issue with a static net fishery, rather than trawl fishery pursued by most Scottish vessels.

Pressure theme: Habitat changes
Pressure: Abrasion due to disturbance from fishing gear
Impact: Damage to, or loss of, habitats.

Pressure theme: Biological pressures
Pressure: Selective removal of species
Impact: Individual stock level pressures on distribution and population size. Loss of biological productivity of individual stocks, reduced genetic diversity.

Pressure: Selective removal of species
Impact: Impacts on non-target species (by-catch) due to non-selective extraction.

Pressure: Selective removal of species
Impact: Indirect impacts on community structure and food webs, loss of biological productivity and biodiversity.

Source: Based on CP2 PSEG Feeder Report Table 3.35 (4) and UK Marine Policy Statement (5)

Demersal pair trawler fishing vessel

Demersal pair trawler fishing vessel
© Marine Scotland

White fish catch coming aboard

White fish catch coming aboard
© Marine Scotland

Forward look

The fisheries sector is currently, and is likely to remain, important to many rural areas in Scotland. Fisheries management will continue to focus on bringing down rates of exploitation to Maximum Sustainable Yield ( MSY) targets. There is increasing downward pressure on the levels of exploitation. Past over-exploitation of some stocks means that current stocks are depleted and require time to become re-established. It is likely that pressure to reduce discarding will increase, though without allowing overall catch to rise. Management measures will need to reduce bycatch and discards, and be more responsive to changing patterns of fish migration and movement.

Currently, Scottish Ministers will not licens­e any expansion in Scotland's existing fishing capacity. So no new fishing licences (which are needed to fish commercially for sea fish and land a catch for profit; and also stipulate authorised seas area, species and gear) are issued.

Reform of the CFP in 2012 may result in significant changes to the aims and objectives of the policy with a consequent effect on management. The outcome of this reform process cannot be predicted with any certainty but one possibility is that EU fisheries may be managed on a regional basis and fishermen may be more directly involved in the management of the fish stocks.