Information on salmon and grilse catch from 29 rivers in the following two loch systems – Linnhe and Fyne.
I have concluded that the original decision should be confirmed with modifications;
I consider that the application of the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) (information not held) is appropriate because catch data is not held on record at individual river level across the time series since 1952.
The reasons why this information is not held were set out in detail in the original response letter. River catch information has been amalgamated at the point of reporting to Marine Scotland Science, and also at the point of recording. Information has been grouped at area or district level and recorded in this way to enable stock assessment work. Many of the historic catch data documents have been scanned into an electronic form, but ultimately are still photos of paper documents, and have not had software applied to read and extract data. As Marine Scotland Science does not use individual river catch data for any research or monitoring purpose, the information you have requested is not searchable within our databases, or practically using historic documents. To extract the data you have requested would require the creation of a new data set.
Guidance from the Scottish Information Commissioner on the exception at 10(4)(a) (the guidance is available at this link – https://www.itspublicknowledge.info/sites/default/files/2022-04/InformationNotHeldEIRs%20%281%29.pdf tells us that public authorities are not required to create new information in order to answer requests (paragraph 49). The guidance says that there is a distinction between creating new information and compiling information from that which is readily available and accessible to the authority. In this case, to provide you with the information that you have requested, we would have to create new information, which requires the use of complex skill and judgement. This means that the information you have requested is not held for the purposes of the EIRs, and therefore that the exception at 10(4)(a) applies.
This exception is subject to the public interest test, and I am satisfied that the public interest lies in upholding the exception as set out in the initial response. While I recognise the public interest in the river level catch data that you have requested, we are unable to provide information that we do not hold.
We will always aim to provide information where possible and have previously shared limited river catch data. As explained, this required the creation of a new data set, which was an extremely onerous task, and one that we now consider is not required under the terms of the EIRs. Repeating this exercise was described in the response from colleagues to you as meaning that your request was “manifestly unreasonable” when applying the exception at 10(4)(b). This exception states that a public authority may refuse to make environmental information available when “the request for information is manifestly unreasonable”. The wording “manifestly unreasonable” refers to the request, not to the person making the request.
However, on review I have concluded that, as the information requested is not held, the exception at 10(4)(b) (manifestly unreasonable) cannot apply. Therefore, I am withdrawing our reliance on this exception.
The Scottish Government, in previous responses and communications with you, has explained in detail how river catch data were historically provided and recorded in area groupings or districts, and how the information is gathered currently. We have also provided you with advice as to what information is published, and advised on what information we are able to provide under the EIRs. We have also offered to provide you with hard copies of the published data should you be unable to access it. Your email of 26 March questions the process of catch data collation, this is outwith the scope of this review so I have not addressed it here.
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
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