Nephrops fleet - optimisation modelling: policy brief

Economic research providing a valuable addition to the evidence base of Scotland’s Nephrops fishery to help inform discussions on the future of fisheries management.


There are two main gear types that are used in the Nephrops industry: 

  • Static gear - typically creels that are baited and dropped to the seabed where they fish by trapping Nephrops that enter them. Nephrops that are caught tend to be landed whole and live; or, 
  • Mobile gear – typically nets that are trawled on the bottom of the sea to catch any Nephrops that are out of their burrows.  Nephrops that are caught are landed whole or tailed. 

Both creels and trawls can be used to fish for Nephrops in some parts of Scotland’s inshore waters, and can compete for the same fishing grounds.

The mobile nature of trawling means trawl vessels can displace creels in their path. As a result, some in the creel fishing fleet believe the current fisheries management of Nephrops favour the trawl fleet, at their expense. They allege that they are forced to avoid some fishing grounds for fear of losing their gear. Some in the mobile sector report, however, that static gear is placed in “traditional trawl tows” effectively to block access to fishing grounds. Such practices can introduce inefficiency in vessel operations across both mobile and static gears as well as present a safety hazard. 

Nephrops quotas are typically not fully utilised. Instead the constraining factor for fishers attempting to increase their landings appears to be access to fishing grounds. Part of the underlying cause for why there is competition to access some fishing grounds is that fishers are not necessarily assigned exclusive control over sea areas as part of their quotas. Both gears are left to contest for access to fishing grounds.

The issue of competition between vessels operating creel and trawl gear, including competition for access to fishing grounds, has been documented in two reports that were published by the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) in May 2017[2] and by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) in October 2017[3]. Following these reports, Marine Scotland has invested in developing the evidence base further around the following areas:

(a) Looking at market opportunities if the supply of live Nephrops was to increase. This has been addressed to some extent by work carried out by Seafood Scotland which showed that there is scope for a modest increase in the amount of creel caught Nephrops sold to the EU, although this was based on Scotland and the UK remaining in the EU

(b) Understanding the relative environmental performance of the two fishing methods, for example in terms of impacts on the sea bed and on other fish stocks. This is the focus of an on-going evidence review by Marine Scotland Science. 

(c) Assessing baseline activity and opportunities to improve economic and social outcomes via reallocating access to fishing grounds between and within vessels operating trawl and creel gear. This is the subject of this policy brief and the accompanying research report.  

The objectives of the commissioned research were to: 

(i) build a more detailed picture of the current Nephrops fishing activity in Scotland;

(ii) create an economic model that can help identify what an optimal allocation of access to Nephrops fishing grounds could look like under different policy objectives that could inform Future of Fisheries Management discussions, taking vessels’ characteristics into account;

(iii) use this economic model to determine if the current allocation of access to fishing grounds deviates from the optimum for different objectives.

In addressing the above objectives, the accompanying research report provides a valuable input to help guide ongoing discussions on the Future of Fisheries Management in Scotland policy programme. A national Discussion Paper on the Future of Fisheries Management in Scotland was published in March 2019[4] to start an in-depth nationwide conversation with stakeholders to develop Scotland’s Future of Fisheries Management policy. In terms of inshore fisheries, there are three broad themes:

1. improving the evidence base on which fisheries management decisions are made;

2. streamlining fisheries governance, and promoting stakeholder participation; 

3. embedding inshore fisheries management into wider marine planning.

Several key discussion points are also raised in the Discussion Paper, including looking into introducing a low-impact trial that will separate mobile and static gear and looking at alternative approaches to tackle instances of gear conflict. These are key themes and areas that the evidence presented in the accompanying research report can be considered. 



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