Publication - Minutes

Fisheries Management and Conservation Group (FMAC) minutes: February 2021

Published: 11 May 2021
Date of meeting: 2 Feb 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 2 February 2021.

Published:
11 May 2021
Fisheries Management and Conservation Group (FMAC) minutes: February 2021

Attendees and apologies

Attendees 

External: 

  • Elaine Whyte, CFA
  • Tommy Finn, CFA
  • Mark Dougal, PJJ
  • Clara Johnston, MCS 
  • Simon Collins, Shetland
  • James Anderson, SFA
  • Jim Fyall, FFPO
  • Dr Clive Fox, SAMS
  • Leslie Tait, Shetland FA
  • Lewis Tattersall, Seafish 
  • David Anderson, AFPO
  • Hannah Fennell, Orkney FA 
  • Kevin McDonell, WSFPO
  • Kara Brydson, FIS 
  • Mike Park, SWFPA
  • Robert Stevenson, Lunar
  • Duncan Macinnes, WIFA 
  • Anne Birnie, NESFO 
  • Kenny Coull, SWFPA 
  • Elena Balestri, SFF
  • Ian Gatt, Scottish Pelagic
  • Elspeth Macdonald, SFF
  • Paul Macdonald, SFO
  • Bill McKenzie, SFF
  • Brian Isbister, SFPO
  • Helen McLachlan, WWF
  • John Anderson, SFO

Marine Scotland staff

  • Allan Gibb (Chair), Deputy Director of Sea Fisheries
  • Jane Macpherson (Co-Chair), Future Catching Policy Team Leader
  • Thomas Robertson, Marine Scotland Compliance, Central Investigations Unit
  • Coby Needle, Chief Fisheries Advisor for Scotland
  • Warren Devine, Senior Policy Officer, Catching Policy Team
  • David Hill, Policy Officer, Catching Policy Team

Items and actions

Welcome and introductory remarks 

The chair welcomed everyone to the meeting and outlined the meeting etiquette for raising points of discussion given the meeting format. 

The chair reminded the group that the FFM Strategy had been launched since the last FMAC meeting, launching at the end of December 2020. This key document is the culmination of a number of years work, and there are some ambitious plans in the Strategy which we are focussed on delivering over the coming years.  

In the short term however, we are facing two crises: COVID and Brexit. The fallout from both of these crises is occupying all our minds, and means that we need to consider how we are prioritising work within Marine Scotland.  

Conscious of wanting to ease the administrative burden on stakeholders, we are adjusting our timescales for the FFM work, including the Future Catching Policy (FCP) and Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM).  Rather than publishing consultations on these key policies before the election in May, we will instead consult after the election. This allows for extra time to develop the consultations, and means that we can support other areas internally within Marine Scotland.  

There shouldn’t be any immediate real world impact for FMAC of this, other than to mean that the FMAC work programme will be slightly lighter for a couple of months. Hopefully this will be welcome and will mean we can also concentrate our collective efforts on managing COVID and Brexit. 

The chair also acknowledged that these are difficult times for everyone and especially the fishing industry. While acutely conscious of the impacts of COVID and Brexit, the FCP is about the future of Scottish fisheries and it remains important to have these discussions as regularly as possible

Update on negotiations and exemptions 

Marine Scotland is currently involved in four negotiations for 2021 fishing opportunities, all running concurrently

  • UK Faroe Bilateral
  • UK EU Norway Trilateral
  • UK EU Bilateral 
  • UK Norway Bilateral

Addressing each in turn:

EU UK Norway Trilateral

The trilateral is very close to completing its work setting TACs for the North Sea Jointly Managed Stocks and a read out is expected shortly. The key focus has been to concentrate on the TAC for NS Cod, seeking a lower cut that -16.5% given the marginal impact on the SSB. Given this is a new relationship this group has made excellent progress and we can expect to see trilateral co-operation on a Herring Working Group and ERS in 2021. If this concludes in the next few days, a broader stakeholder meeting will be called to discuss details. 

Faroe UK Bilateral

Disappointingly the Faroes delegation have maintained their positions that they are not willing to move forward with fish for access discussions as tabled by the UK during earlier rounds. It makes the likelihood of a bilateral slim but we will still be engaging with the Faroes to see if we can get a deal that will be of mutual benefit.

UK Norway Bilateral 

Work on the bilateral will start formally when the trilateral concludes and will run alongside the EU bilateral. Here we have to agree access arrangements with Norway as well as exchanges. Norway will be one of Scotland’s key partners going forward so it is important that this Bilateral gets off to a good start.

EU UK Bilateral 

Today marks the kick off of talks properly following some informal and preparatory technical discussions a fortnight ago. The plenary starts at 1130 today. It remains the focus to arrange an inward transfer, identifying stocks where there is a shortfall and EU have a need for. The UK and EU hope to make progress on the setting of TACs this week, we’ll be putting a lot of pressure on the EU to progress this as quickly as possible so that the provisional TACs can become permanent and the fishing industry has stability. Once the TACs are agreed we can move onto exchanges, with no access arrangements to agree.  It remains to be seen how quickly this consultation will progress, as it is a new process coming off the back of challenging TCA discussions.

The chair concluded that we will be able to give more details on these negotiations as dynamics start developing. As the initial plenary session for the EU UK Bilateral would commence during the course of this meeting, the chair confirmed that we would be as efficient as possible to allow for interested parties to attend both. 

As the chair was required to leave for another meeting, he next addressed an AOB point – managing bycatch fisheries in the West of Scotland. Measures for managing West of Scotland cod and whiting had been agreed in partnership with FMAC as the most effective way to manage the situation, on the basis that members would adhere with defined rules. Practically however, MS was receiving on average 15 breaches per month on WOS bycatch limits, causing significant problems at the end of the year. 

The chair stressed that this could not continue, adding that producer organisations will likely know of breaches before MS. The chair asked that attendees remind their members how important it remains to operate within the rules. Doing otherwise presents a significantly negative impact on everyone else managing stock levels. He added that measures such as area specific reporting or haul by haul reporting could be considered if we remain unable to come to a group discussion over this. 

Chair departed, handing over to co-chair. 

The co-chair hoped attendees had been able to read the paper circulated before the meeting, adding that the negotiations discussed earlier were feeding in to the following exemptions. 

Exemptions

Warren reminded the group that MS had communicated before Christmas in relation to landing obligation exemptions and wanted to provide a quick update. It was noted that the input received had been much appreciated given the short notice. 

Towards the end of last year MS had been working closely with Defra and Welsh/Northern Irish colleagues to enact certain exemptions through the Fisheries Act in lieu of the regional group process. Whilst we achieved an extension to the time limited exemptions which were in place, we were also hoping to introduce new exemptions for the West of Scotland through a specific UK SI, and we were also potentially looking at an exemption for NS ling and to adjust the DM for NS cod and whiting. 

Discussions broke down with Defra, for various reasons, and we have now confirmed with Defra that rather than taking forward any exemptions through the UK SI, we will instead look at the exemptions in the round as part of the Future Catching Policy, and will do any legislation through the Scottish Parliament. Whilst the timing isn’t ideal, it does give us greater control over the process by legislating ourselves. He added that MS have now published the landing obligation guidance for 2021 on the gov.scot website. 

On the chat forum, Clive Fox asked regarding exemptions, that these will presumably need a similar science evidence base to those derogated under the CFP LO. Would the evidence need to go through STECF or some other mechanism? Warren clarified that the methodology is still being discussed with UK and DAs, but it looks like we will follow the same process as the EU (checking FDI and ICES data). We will not have to justify our position to STECF, rather our own scientific bodies, but we will need to liaise with EU on access to exemptions in each other’s waters.

Future catching policy 

Echoing the chair’s earlier comments, the co-chair reminded the group that we had been in discussions about the FCP for a while and have been considering options and proposals. The circulated paper was the product of these considerations and we are seeking feedback from the group. We had wanted to begin formal consultation before the election period, but echoing earlier discussion, are planning for launch after the election due to resource constraints – this will allow for more time to fine tune our proposals. 

While Marine Scotland considers the measures in this paper appropriate, we do hope to continue to work in partnership to develop these further, noting that any particular issues can be dealt with flexibly. 

We also can’t walk away from the landing obligation in its entirety. At its basic level the rationale is sound – reduce waste and increase accountability. But we know that the implementation and execution isn’t right. And that’s what needs to be addressed.  

We are also aware that we won’t have got everything right in our proposals. That’s what this meeting is for, and what the consultation will help us with. Much of the expertise about what will work sits in this virtual room. 

The co-chair opened the discussion for feedback on these remarks. 

Mike Park noted that the document covered a wide area and seemed to be in the right direction. He questioned however that increasing the MCRS did not appear to be mentioned as an appropriate measure for discussion. Coby Needle added that this had not been considered specifically, but could be examined off the back of this discussion. 

Simon Collins noted that the delay in publishing the formal consultation does allow for more time to consider proposals closely, however discussion with skippers remained particularly difficult for developing policy. While he was pleased that development would remain flexible, and that it would be a gradual iterate process, we would need to have much more regular meetings and ideally in a different format. 

The co-chair agreed, noting that as the management group we can choose where to focus energies. She hoped that post-COVID we will be able to bring experts (i.e. skippers) in to the room to discuss and drive further. We will continue discussions with SG legal division to explore options around the legislation which needs to underpin our approach, remaining mindful of establishing Scottish rules that apply for all vessels in Scottish waters. There remained an added complexity internationally and with Westminster and other devolved administrations, but we remained committed to having a level playing field in place for measures and that these be defensible if required. 

Mike Park agreed with both points discussed, noting that the LO was developed with no link to industry, creating a wealth of problems from the outset. He welcomed the points about engagement with industry to develop the FCP. Would we see development alongside the rest of the UK?

The co-chair confirmed it was her preference not to work in isolation for consistency, and that the paper had been shared with DEFRA and DAs and will welcome discussion regarding their own intentions to develop sensible policy across the UK. She reiterated, however, that discarding policy is devolved and we have the constitution right to develop and deliver our own management policies as appropriate.

Fleet segments

The paper talks in detail about fleet segments – the co-chair briefly talked through these characteristics. This was something that came out of the Future Catching Policy Development subgroup.  We think it’s a good way to look at our fisheries and to establish tailored measures. We know we’ve used fairly broad categories, which we can add to and refine as we go along. This can be done now, or as a broader approach when defining specific measures.

Pelagic fleet segment:

  • can be clean, non-wasteful fishery 
  • propose that this segment land all catch
  • REM. This would only be applied on level playing field basis. There are specific issues we want to work through – particularly costs, and what the system will look like, whether it will constitute just sensors or cameras and sensors

Static gear fleet segment

  • little or no adjustment at this stage
  • existing measures are probably sound. That said: 
  • measures for gillnets and longlines specifically to deal with displacement/ gear conflict issues

Offshore mixed fleet segment

  • scope to reduce unwanted catch
  • combination of technical (selectivity) and spatial measures
  • fish and mud areas as with NCAP
  • move-on rules and RTCs
  • land all above MCRS  (excepting high survival)
  • de minimis for below MCRS (disproportionate cost of landing)
  • need full accountability for what is being discarded
  • possible REM – reference fleet to begin with?

Small inshore fleet segment

  • selectivity has already been increased (BCRP), scope for further selectivity / spatial measures?
  • blanket de minimis for below MCRS (disproportionate cost of landing)
  • potential de minimis for above MCRS on the basis of disproportionate cost but this would need a high level of accountability
  • increased monitoring (inshore modernisation programme)

Offshore whitefish fleet segment

  • build upon the work of the North Sea Cod Avoidance Plan to implement workable technical/spatial measures
  • take a look at quota
  • land all above MCRS  (excepting high survival)
  • de minimis for below MCRS (disproportionate cost of landing)
  • possible REM – reference fleet to begin with?

The co-chair invited the group to comment on these points.

Mike Park asked if there would be a sequencing issue pursuing greater selectivity measures. Did we need to have the right measures in place to deal with unwanted catch first, or could we have unwanted catch measures and new discarding rules developed in parallel?

The co-chair confirmed that if we were in a position to operate sequentially we would, for example once unwanted catch was brought down to an operational level, we could then move to looking at a more sensible discard policy. However, the group was reminded that we have to operate within the existing legislation and a sequential process might not be possible. There also remains  a Scottish Government policy of  alignment with the EU and this would potentially make the landscape more challenging to navigate through.  

Ian Gatt reminded the group that there had been long standing conversations about applying REM to the pelagic fleet. While the pelagic industry was not in favour of such a measure, in the past it had been very clear it would not be supported by industry without a level playing field, and Ian was pleased this was being stressed. He asked what route would be pursued to introduce this requirement?

The co-chair confirmed that the exact route was still being clarified. In its simplest form, the REM requirement would be introduced through legislation (an SSI), and that we expect to do so for the end of this year. We did however need to consult before this stage, including with foreign stakeholders fishing in Scottish waters. It was noted that applying these rules on the international side was not going to be easy, but we remained committed to do so. We also may need to consider WTO requirements, which sets out a formal route to follow to consult and inform. It remained to be seen if this pathway would be required. Other unknowns still exist, but the basic steps would be to consult, broaden that consultation internationally, enact the legislation, and allow a fair run in time. The co-chair welcomed further conversation with Ian and others on how to work together. 

Elspeth Macdonald noted that the group would have welcomed a better Brexit outcome having more fish to discuss, however that was not the decision we found ourselves in. On the pelagic REM point, she hoped that incentives to improve compliance could be considered, rather than disincentives for non-compliance. Regarding the defined static fleet segment, was there scope to define this more closely as it covered a very broad section of the fleet.

The co-chair confirmed if there were valid reasons to split the segments up we were happy to. 

Elaine Whyte confirmed she felt the segmented approach was the most sensible option, appreciating the economic link, which would be important when considering measures such as mesh size changes. The FFM strategy paper was issued on 17th December, and with Brexit, had not left fishers with much time to digest these plans. She welcomed the additional time for the plans to be considered in further detail. 

Linking to the FFM strategy, the co-chair confirmed that lots more was needed before the strategy could be finalised. It remained important to confirm with industry what to expect going forward. What with the resource issues discussed earlier, this won’t be imminent, but we remain committed to doing so. The co-chair confirmed FMAC as key to delivering these aims, and we want to continue to engage to develop these. 

John Anderson noted that he felt the paper reflected the discussions and deliberations held previously particularly well. Addressing the language in the paper, he asked what was meant by “excessive” quota holdings and what is “sufficient” to possess a license. 

The co-chair confirmed these themes had been coming through during the consultation for allocation of additional quota. There remained a question about additional opportunities arising and how these will be allocated. She knew that the relevant MS team was considering outputs of this consultation and how to take that forward. This process would remain flexible depending on ICES advice, input from the experts at FMAC, and the various work streams within Marine Scotland. 

Helen McLachlan felt it was helpful to see the fleet broken up in to segments, and appropriate measures for each. From an environmental perspective, she was interested in focusing on what it is being removed from the system, as opposed to landed vs caught. The idea of focusing on selectivity then drilling down further seemed a helpful approach, but this needs to be supported by evidence – an opportunity REM presented. For example, gillnets have been highlighted repeatedly for bycatch of seabirds and marine mammals, yet it did not seem good at evidencing this problem. This presented an opportunity for Scotland to demonstrate leadership in this field. 

On REM, the co-chair confirmed she was aware this remained controversial. In the past we have concentrated on REM as a compliance tool, however conversations were now more rounded on the additional benefits provided by REM, including accountability and sustainability practices. The scientific benefits for REM on demersal and other vessels are huge, and will greatly enhance existing observer programmes. 

Kenny Coull asked about how minimum mesh size would be applied to the pout fishery.

The co-chair confirmed that Marine Scotland is alive to the various issues around pout and that this is forming part of the conversation in relation to the current international negotiations. 

Leslie Tait asked about discarding, making the point that the situation did allow for divergence from EU Commission thinking, and that we address problems as they occur.

This was an interesting point, as the co-chair had recently attended an event where was there a need for new policies discussed, instead should things focus on what we already know and how do we implement them. A lot of expertise that we as a group have, and we need to know how best to tap in to this. 

Conclusion and next steps

Conscious of time, the co-chair tied up this discussion, there remained a lot more within the FCP policy paper which needed to be discussed – for example process and how best to involve people. There remained implications for how we work and a need to develop as things progress. Other things within the paper touched on, for example gillnets and longlines, remained points to tease out further in the future consultation. Where concerns exist, we are happy to take these out of the meeting. 

Simon Collins raised the gillnet proposal, which he welcomed, though noted it was important for any such proposals to be considered a starting point to be reviewed later. Was there a plan to look at the inshore management proposals before going out to consultation? A focused FMAC discussion on inshore management would be helpful. 

The co-chair confirmed she would relay this back to the inshore team who would likely welcome discussion, but noted it was not likely in the next few weeks owing to the resourcing issues discussed.

Elspeth Macdonald echoed this point, adding would comments on the draft paper be easiest for next steps?

The co-chair confirmed it would be very helpful for any additional comments. She would confirm a deadline for comments shortly, likely for the end of March. Following this, we would probably look to revise the paper based on comments received and come back to the group at a later point. 

John Anderson noted that he was surprised at the strength of message on the earlier point raised by the chair addressing bycatch of west coast cod. He had been of the view that issues would in the first instance be flagged to POs who could in turn discuss with members to amend their behaviour. He was not aware that this had happened in this case. Was it the case that other issues in play at this time before Christmas had affected this agreed approach, and was it worth drawing up a memorandum of understanding. 

To co-chair confirmed it may have been the case that other issues had impacted here. If there was a need to tighten up this procedure and communication, we were happy to take this away as an action point. 

Elaine Whyte raised a more general point about baseline science, which has been raised a number of times with her membership – particularly the prevalence of spurdog and skate, and the impact these have on other stock levels. When setting catching policy it remained important to understand the ecosystem as a whole. Regarding issues with the bycatch raised by John, she did have concerns about what line was being caught from and where this was recorded. 

On the bycatch issues, the co-chair hoped that the position we would end up in would be able to address the problems of mixed fisheries rather than taking a narrow view on discarding. From a science perspective, we were already thinking about planning for mixed fisheries modelling, so is a factor in our broader thinking. 

The co-chair thanked everyone for their comments noting that it had been very helpful from our perspective. We will reflect on the discussion and look forward to additional comments and will come back on the future process at a later date. 

The meeting concluded. 

Action points:

  • MSS to consider MCRS in context of Future Catching Policy – Coby Needle
  • inshore fisheries team to arrange further discussion with industry on inshore management proposals  - Jim Watson
  • any further comments from FMAC on the FCP to be submitted by 25th March 2020. We will follow with a review and redrafting with a view to consult further with FMAC by the end of April.
  • Marine Scotland will raise WoS cod and whiting issues as an agenda item for discussion at the next SAFPO meeting – date TBC