Sea fisheries

Sea fisheries management

Marine Scotland is responsible for managing Scottish fishing vessels through the creation of policy and rules about fisheries management, which are together designed to ensure the sustainable harvesting of fish stocks and the protection of the marine environment. Fisheries management rules cover:

  • licensing of fishing vessels and the maintenance of an overall cap on the capacity of the Scottish fishing fleet

  • setting catch limits through the allocation of fish quota and limits on time at sea

  • minimum standards (known as 'Technical Conservation') in the ways that fishing activity is conducted, for example by controlling the use of nets

  • arrangements for the monitoring of fishing vessels while they are at sea

  • controls on the landing, sale, purchase, transport and traceability of sea fish

Marine Scotland is also responsible for policy in relation to the enforcement of these policies and management rules, many of which are implemented by Marine Scotland Compliance. This section provides information about policies and management rules.

We produced a national discussion paper on future fisheries management in Scotland in 2019. The results will be used to help inform and develop Scotland’s future fisheries management strategy.

Find out more in the following sections:


Marine Scotland's role includes a compliance function to enforce the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) policies and management rules effectively and proportionately. Read more information on compliance.

Allocating and managing Scotland's quota.

In 2014 the we published a consultation paper about how the fish quota that is made available to Scotland should be allocated. we plan to publish a detailed policy response to the quota consultation once a new UK Fisheries Concordat is in place. Further background and the letter from Richard Lochhead MSP on publication of the paper is avaiable on the archive. 

Area restrictions

Sea area closures are designed to protect stocks in the waters around Scotland. Some of these closures are implemented on a seasonal basis due to known spawning grounds, whilst others are instigated on a temporary basis due to a high abundance of juvenile fish.

Fishing areas can be restricted in the following ways:

National Cod Avoidance Plan (North Sea)

This plan seeks to address two key issues: 1) to support recovery of the North Sea cod stock and, 2) to support the fishing industry to manage their quota in line with the reduced TAC set in 2020. 

Real Times Closures (RTCs) and Real Time Reporting (RTR) in particular will help manage quota issues for the fleet. 

This plan mainly focuses on spatial measures to avoid catching an abundance of cod.  Whilst spatial measures are difficult to quantify, our previous experience of using spatial measures such as RTCs (particularly during the Cod Recovery Plan) demonstrates that such measures can have an observable effect on cod mortality and biomass.

For more information click here

Juvenile real time closures

The European Commission and Norway implement a Juvenile Real Time Closure (JRTC) system in the North Sea and Skagerrak. The scheme has been in place since 1 September 2009 for juvenile Cod, Haddock, Saithe and Whiting. More information on JRTC is on the Eurlex website.

Closures shall apply equally to all vessels operating in the area.

The details are as follows:

  • closures shall be based only on information gathered during inspections at sea conducted by authorised inspectors and published on this website
  • fish below the following sizes shall be regarded as juveniles:

               - Cod: 35 cm

               - Haddock: 30 cm

               - Saithe: 35 cm

               - Whiting: 27 cm

  • the trigger level shall be 10% by weight of the total of the four species, calculated from a 200 kg sample. However, if the quantity of Cod exceeds 75% of the total, the trigger level shall be 7.5%.
  • samples shall only be taken when it is estimated that at least 200 kg of Cod, Haddock, Saithe and Whiting are present in one haul
  • the area shall be closed to fishing for 21 days and automatically re-opened at midnight UTC when the period has expired
  • pelagic trawls, purse seines, driftnets and jiggers targeting Herring, Mackerel, Horse mackerel, pots and scallop dredges may be used inside the area. Gillnets may be used if the mesh size is in accordance with technical regulations applicable in the fisheries for Cod, Haddock, Saithe and Whiting.

Burials at sea - designated areas

Owners/masters/charterers/nominees of fishing vessels are reminded that there are two Scottish sites designated for burials at sea. It is therefore recommended that fishing activity at these sites be avoided.

Designated Area
(A) 210 miles due west of Oban
56º 45’N 009º 15’W
(B) 15 miles west of John O’Groats
58º 42.70’N 003º 23.30’W

See an illustrative map indicating the two sites designated for burials at sea.

real time closures (scheme suspended from 0001 hours on 20 November 2016).

Electrofishing for razor clams

Razor clams, also known as razor fish or "spoots", are common molluscs found burrowed in sandy inter-tidal and sub-tidal areas throughout Europe. In Scottish waters there are two commercially important species: Ensis arcuatus, known as “bendies” and the larger pod razor Ensis siliqua.

‘Electrofishing’ for razor clams involves probes being pulled slowly over the sea bed from an inshore fishing vessel, this causes the clams to emerge from their burrows and they are collected by divers. Research has shown that the methodology is highly selective, produces high quality product with zero bycatch and is less intrusive than traditional methods like dredging (further details below). The legislation also therefore supports a scientific trial designed to further our knowledge of the electrofishing method and explore the potential of a commercial razor clam electro-fishery within sustainable limits.  

The Razor Clams (Prohibition on Fishing and Landing) (Scotland) Order 2017 prohibited fishing for razor clams in Scottish waters and the landing of razor clams in Scotland except in two specified situations:

  • for scientific investigation authorised by Scottish Ministers
  • for the traditional hand gathering of razor clams from the shore, a person carrying out such harvesting is allowed to take up to 30 razor clams per day

Read more about our scientific trial of electrofishing for razor clams in our website archive.

Fishing Industry Science Alliance (FISA)

The Scottish Government has regularly provided funding for collaborative research between the Scottish catching sector and fisheries science providers. From 2006 until 2011, this was undertaken by Scottish Industry/Science Partnerships (SISP) and from 2012, this was replaced by the Fishing Industry Science Alliance (FISA). FISA aims to combine the expertise of fishermen and scientists to enhance knowledge and support effective management for sustainable fisheries.

FISA provides a unique opportunity to develop research projects that can provide practical solutions to the issues currently facing the fishing industry. Since 2012 £150,000 per annum has been secured for the fund which is endorsed by the Fisheries Management and Conservation Group (FMAC).

During 2012, a steering group consisting of representatives from the catching sector, fisheries science providers and NGOs, and chaired by Marine Scotland, met to discuss a framework for project proposals. A number of priority areas/themes were identified and these have remained relevant in subsequent years. Further to this, with the gradual implementation of the landings obligation from 2015, studies to expand scientific knowledge in this area were incorporated into the themes. These themes also fit into the high level government objectives for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.

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