Fisheries Management and Conservation Group (FMAC) minutes: November 2019

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 11 November 2019.

Attendees and apologies

FMAC attendees:

  • David Anderson, AFPO
  • Elaine Whyte, Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance
  • Tommy Finn, Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance
  • Robert Stevenson, Lunar FPO
  • Calum Duncan, MCS
  • Anne Birnie, NESFO
  • Alan Coghill, OFPO
  • Fiona    Matheson, Orkney Fisheries
  • Elena Balestri, SFF
  • John Anderson, SFO
  • Paul Macdonald, SFO
  • Ruby Temple-Long, Scottish Wildlife Trust
  • Trevor Cumming, Shetland 
  • Simon Collinsy, Shetland
  • Leslie Tait, Shetland
  • Mike Park, SWFPA
  • Helen McLachlan, WWF

Marine Scotland staff:

  • Allan Gibb (Chair), Deputy Director of Sea Fisheries
  • Jane MacPherson, Future Catching Policy Team Leader
  • Ben Dipper, Head of International Fisheries: Demersal
  • Coby Needle, Chief Fisheries Advisor for Scotland
  • Warren Devine, Senior Policy Officer, Sea Fisheries
  • Stuart McCubbin, Marine Scotland Compliance


  • Elspeth McDonald, SFF
  • Mark Dougal, PJJ
  • Alex Kinninmonth, RSPB
  • Kara Brydson, FIS
  • Debbie Crockard, MCS

Items and actions

Welcome, introduction and state of play

The group observed two minutes of silence to commemorate Armistice Day.

The chair welcomed attendees and provided an update on the state of play with regards to NS Cod and highlighted that the purpose of the meeting was to seek support from the group for a strategic approach. The chair acknowledged that the last meeting was held in October and thanked everyone for their feedback following the meeting and subsequent emails. With regards to timescales, the chair acknowledged that the group have expressed some concerns regarding short notice of meetings and assured the group that internally Marine Scotland are working on very tight timescales outwith our control.

Whilst on timelines, the chair outlined the upcoming meetings:

  • Tue 12th November - Marine Scotland/Defra meeting, York
  • Wed 13th November - NEAFC Annual Meeting, London
  • Wed 13th November - EU/Norway Meeting, Brussels
  • Thu 14th November - North Sea Technical Group meeting
  • Mon 18th – Fri 22nd - EU/Norway first round

The chair outlined his plans for a round table at the end of the meeting to confirm views and highlighted that, while we may come to an agreement on some views, everything will still be subject to scrutiny from Other Member States (OMS) through the Regional Group (RG) process, as well as the EU. Regardless of what is said in the meeting, the chair will still need to give his recommendations to Mr Ewing and will also need to communicate the groups’ feelings. 

In relation to concerns from some industry representatives that there are some issues regarding gear conflict with other countries in the North Sea the chair made it clear that the Scottish Government will not support measures that don’t apply to everyone else fishing in the North Sea. Equivalence is key. 

The chair outlined the current narrative around TAC setting in the North Sea:

ICES were advising -70% cut to NS Cod, which has been reduced to -61% as of Friday (8th). The Commission (CION) have been clear that they expect to follow the ICES advice, and have also been very forceful on the MSY 2020 point and published a non-paper last week advising cuts to mixed stocks as well, in order to significantly lower potential catches of Cod. CION are taking a very rigid interpretation of the North Sea Multi-Annual Plan (MAP).

The chair outlined that the rationale for the proposals today is that the North Sea MAP is not as rigid as CION seem to interpret it. The MAP makes reference to “rapid” not “immediate” recovery of stocks and this is the approach we aim to take. We will also have to consider socio-economic factors throughout our planning. So despite CION’s MSY2020 goal, the MAP recognises that we may not get to that.

As part of the ICES advice there is an assumption that  we will recover the stock to an MSY Btrigger target of 150,000 tonnes (which we haven’t seen since 1982). We will need to assess whether this is the realistic trigger point and whether there is more than one stock in play (northern North Sea vs southern North Sea). Relative recruitment in northern North Sea has been quite steady whereas the South has seen a drastic fall. As of yet we have been unable to do a split assessment, however, if we were able to we might reach the conclusions that the North is not much below MSY Btrigger with the southern stock bringing down the total. It’s worth noting that ICES are aware of the retrospective bias and are content with their catch advice.

Recovery approach

The chair then ran through the proposed approach, containing 3 key elements: TAC setting plus 2 stages of complementary measures.

TAC setting:

  • proposing a multi-year rapid response seeking with a total catch of between 15,000t – 20,000t each year
  • 3 – 4 year approach + 2 stage process (as set out below)
  • the current advice for next year is -61% which amounts to 13,800t but we would hope to commit to more over the 3 – 4 year period
  • we would hope for a couple of years of good year classes coming through
  • this puts us in a defensible position with regards to TAC

The chair highlighted that indications are that Norway thinks a proposed TAC cut of 61% is too high and would suggest something like 19,000t+ would be more appropriate alongside complementary measures . 

Stage 1 of complementary measures

The chair highlighted that the best way to keep cod catches low, is to not fish where they are, with this in mind, the first stage of complementary measures would focus on spatial solutions, outlined to be:

  • seasonal spawning closures (between January – March inclusive)
  • juvenile closures
  • RTCs based on abundance - with trigger levels assigned dependent on abundance of Cod in the area e.g. higher triggers in northern North Sea and lower in southern North Sea

Stage 2 of complementary measures

The chair highlighted that OMS are very much focussed on gear selectivity  with the caveat that certain sections of their fleet would be exempt from the mitigation measures. As previously mentioned, equivalence is of the utmost importance so we are pushing back against that hard, however, gear selectivity still has an important role to play.

The chair then talked about Precautionary Areas. 

  • these would be either small areas with narrow access conditions or larger areas with broader requirements. The feeling is that this puts the onus on the master with a focus on behavioural change, although acknowledging that they also need to be able to demonstrate what steps they are taking and the effect this is having

Measures within the precautionary areas are likely to include:

  • haul by haul reporting
  • move-on rules
  • selectivity measures

The chair also reflected that during previous issues with choke species (and when the Landing Obligation started) much of the narrative and strength of mitigating measures flowed from workshops that Marine Scotland hosted in Edinburgh where fishermen were actively involved in the design. 

The chair proposed setting up a working group of experts through the EU/Norway process with fishermen involved to come up with selectivity measures as part of Stage 2. This working group will meet as many times as they need to, to propose measures by a set timescale (31st March for example). We will recognise that it takes time to implement such measures once agreed upon.

The group expressed concern that the workshops will matter less if the outcomes are not binding and that CION may oppose our measures and dictate their own. The chair agreed, stating that it would be difficult to deliver equivalence without binding outcomes and that CION are aware that is it easier to take industry along than decree measures. The chair also highlighted that a TAC reduction alone will not reduce mortality enough.

The group agreed that, once implemented, it is important that we can demonstrate the effectiveness of the measures.

Discussion on spawning closures

The chair introduced this section and highlighted that the proposed maps contained a mixture of industry data and Marine Scotland data.  The maps focus on Scottish waters and we would expect England, Norway etc. to come forward with their own proposals.

Coby Needle presented the pre-circulated maps with proposed spawning closures – highlighting that disturbance (both physical and noise) was as bad as catching when it came to disruption of spawning cod. 

Following much discussion on positioning and size of closures, as well as behaviour of spawning cod and movement of their spawn, the key outcomes were:

  • we need to be prepared to monitor, evaluate and learn as we go
  • we have no intention to suggest closures in OMS’ waters: however, we will expectthat they implement their own
  • the effect of closures is enhanced if the closures are more strict (closed to all vessels from all countries) even if they are probably smaller than would be ideal. If we find that boats are fishing around the closures in year one and catching spawning cod we can implement an RTC in the short term and then expand the seasonal closure the following year – the group were content with this step
  • further clarification on the effect on creel areas to be determined following the meeting

The closures were agreed as:

  • six seasonal closures (1st January – 31st March)
  • Papa Bank (industry proposal)
  • Long Hole (industry proposal and already closed for part of the year)
  • West of Shetland (industry proposal but need to monitor – maybe through RTC in first instance and then possibly closed the following year if needed)
  • South of Shetland (industry proposal)
  • one to North East (industry proposal - Viking area – tend to spawn later so surveys not picking up) 
  • east of Orkney (Marine Scotland proposal – traditionally static but protects against displacement – to be refined for static gear)

It was noted that quantifiable benefits are difficult to quantify live, as there will be no fishing inside the closures to provide evidence, however, the benefit of a spawning closure could be seen the following year when assessing the state of the stock .

Discussion on juvenile closures

Coby presented the recirculated maps stating that a similar approach had been used as the spawning closures. He highlighted most of the juveniles are still found Skagerrak and Kattegat although the data from 2016 presented an unusual year in which large quantities of juvenile cod were found close to the east coast of Scotland.

The chair highlighted that if we are going to be asking Denmark to protect the large proportion of juveniles in Skagerrak and Kattegat then it stands to reason that we  should cover some of our own ground.

The group enquired as to the behaviour of juveniles and whether they tend to move long distances and Coby noted that if they do move, it is a relatively small distance (no more than 20-30 miles).

The group agreed that we needed to be conscious of the scallop and squid fisheries on the East coast of Scotland should we implement the suggested juvenile closure.

Ben informed the group that CION raised the possibility of juvenile closures as part of a package during the last North Sea Technical Group meeting in Brussels and that we will be expected to present our findings this week as well.

On industry request, Coby agreed to look at data further back than 2011.

To summarise: juvenile areas are equally as important as spawning areas, particularly if our spawning areas are successful – increased numbers of juveniles will need protection in order to contribute to the spawning stock subsequently. The group acknowledged that if we don’t have anything next year then will need something in subsequent years so as not to lose benefit of good year classes coming through. 

Discussion on RTCs

The chair introduced RTCs highlighting that there is already a system in place for juvenile RTCs but that we are proposing abundance triggered RTCs as part of Stage 1; with the intention being that the trigger level will differ depending on the area (i.e. higher in higher abundance areas and lower in lower abundance areas).

Our thinking is that the RTCs will be instigated upon inspection as there is a level of confidence associated with boardings as opposed to eLog data; additionally an eLog related system would be difficult to deliver on a multi-national basis.

The chair then ran through a brief comparison of the old RTC scheme used during the Cod recovery period and the proposed new measures:

Old scheme:

  • maximum of 11 or 12 at a time
  • mixture of 15 x 15 nm (boardings based) and 7.5 x 7.5 nm (evidence based)
  • at any given time the maximum amount of ocean closed would have only been around 2,700 sq nm not including juvenile/spawning closures

Proposed measures:

  • 20 x 20 nm closures with a maximum of 6 RTCs which would equate to less ground than the last scheme (6.75 x 20 x 20 = 2,700 sq nm)
  • this would apply to everybody – all vessels and all countries
  • we would reduce the soak time for static gears (seine and gill nets) to 24 hours to allow for some leeway in relation to displacement issues
  • likelihood of 6 or 7 at any one time would appear to be slim to zero if based on  current boardings of whitefish vessels (1.7% of total boardings in the last 12 months)
  • haul-by-haul reporting could assist with this

The chair then asked for opinions from the group.

The group raised questions around enforcement around the reduced soak times and were told the enforcement would remind the same as the current 72 hours soak time.

Some attendees expressed concern regarding the Saithe and Monk fisheries, enquiring whether the RTC lines could be moved ad-hoc to accommodate for these. The chair informed the group that this would likely not be possible considering we are seeking equivalence from OMS.

Fishing representatives raised concerns about the RTC triggers (some preferring a weight trigger over cod count) and the length of the closures, with some attendees being in favour of smaller, shorter closures, especially in the event that catch of other species is significant. There was also concern raised that reactionary RTCs could make a block of closures around Shetland. Some attendees requested re-evaluating the shape of the closures, from a square, to a tailored area.

The chair acknowledged all of these concerns and highlighted that in an international forum, the more complexities we build into the measure, the more difficult it will be to get through the international process. We are already going to have to work quite hard to introduce RTCs, if we start adding complexities we may risk losing them altogether. It’s worth noting that industry feedback has asked for straight lines, which is why we have gone for the square shape. When considering our approach on an international level, we can highlight that during the Cod Recovery period, we proved that we can manage RTCs effectively; but with the current advice, it won’t fly if we say we want fewer and smaller RTCs.

Environmental representatives enquired whether Marine Scotland envisages having greater compliance/inspection coverage in the new year, and would we be looking for the same commitments from OMS for their vessels.

The chair responded that on the latter point, yes we would be asking for OMS to enforce compliance on their own vessels. On  the former, Marine Scotland won’t have more inspection assets next year but between Compliance and Policy we will discuss tasking these assets accordingly. Compliance will have risk based goals (pelagic have been quite high as of the last few years) and the chair does not direct where the ships go, however, he does feed into the tasking with relevant information.

An industry representative asked whether Norway will be implementing the same suite of measures as us and whether they will be delivering these as of the 1st January as well. The chair expressed that these details would likely be ironed out over the coming weeks with the EU/Norway meetings.

Industry also expressed that given static gears such as gill/seine nets would also be catching cod, would there be the same trigger for RTCs with them. The chair replied that this could possibly work on a pro-rata basis.

There was further discussion around RTC triggers and positioning with no clear agreement reached on weight vs count as an RTC trigger but clarity from the chair that there would be 6 mile limit on RTCs to protect inshore fisheries.

The group broke for lunch at this point.

After lunch the chair recapped the positions on RTCs, highlighting that everything we do will be reviewed annually and everything we implement, if successful could inform our Future Catching Policy going forward and managed accordingly.


3-part strategy (TAC + Stage 1 and 2 complementary measures)


Multiyear response of 3-4 years with a Cod TAC range of between 15,000 - 20,000t

Stage 1 

Seasonal spawning closures between January 1st and March 31st.

Juvenile closure on the east coast of Scotland (based on comparisons with OMS action).

Juvenile RTCs already exist and these may get adjusted but will continue to apply.

RTCs for high abundance:

  • trigger levels differing based on abundance of cod (higher in cod abundant areas and lower in lower abundance areas)
  • these will be 20 x 20 nm in size and run for 21 days with the option to re-close if necessary
  • being conscious of displacement issues, we would seek to reduce soak time of static gear alongside these
  • no closer than 6 miles inshore

Stage 2 

Precautionary Areas (PAs) as a principled approach with the intention that culture/behaviour of masters will have to change and the onus will be on them to demonstrate how they are doing this.

PAs could be reactive and triggered by an event (e.g. RTCs).

Large PAs with broad restrictions or more restrictive but smaller PAs.

Extra selectivity:

  • EU/Norway to form a working group to inform this selectivity – if Scottish industry aren’t invited to this forum Marine Scotland will host a workshop and invite Norwegian fishermen with the intention that the design of selectivity options should be led by industry

The chair informed the group that he would be briefing the minister on where we stand following the meeting with DEFRA on 12th November and asked the group in a round-table fashion whether they agreed that this approach was the best possible negotiating objective that Marine Scotland can take forward on their behalf – highlighting that the complementary measures run alongside the TAC cut, and do not reduce it, and also clarifying that through all of this, equivalence with other keys is the priority.

Round room 

Industry views:

  • broad acceptance that the staged, multi-year approach and the measures proposed seem sensible, however the devil is in the details, especially with regards to trigger levels and positioning of RTCs
  • strong push back on the sizes of RTC from some representatives
  • strong push back on the nature of the RTC triggers, specifically with relation to weight vs Cod count as a means of triggering
  • a feeling that we must take account of unintended consequences caused by displacement so that there’s minimal damage to other industries
  • TAC still remains a concern for many
  • equivalence would be key to ensuring industry buy in
  • for the second phase there may need to be specific, well designed trials to avoid unintended consequences
  • general acceptance that the idea of a workshop to develop selectivity measures is a good idea especially with fishermen involved although some felt that selectivity is an ineffective solution
  • the socio-economic assessment needs to be put to the group for consideration
  • FMSY advice of -33% still needs to be considered – why is 15,000t – 20,000t TAC is the best outcome we can expect?
  • concern that reactive RTCs may lead to a block of closures around Shetland
  • some concern that we may have set the bar too high and that it will be difficult to get OMS to agree to our measures, which may weaken the UK position during negotiations
  • some concern over assessing the stock within the closures given that there can be no survey fishing
  • a feeling that long term integration of measures needs to be looked at e.g. alongside MPAs etc.
  • a general understanding that measures will need to have a demonstrable impact otherwise there will be pain for no gain
  • there was understanding that Marine Scotland is doing its best and that whatever outcome is achieved will be the best available 

Environmental views:

  • broad acceptance of the package of measures with the idea that they are kept in line with the scale of the emergency
  • concern that there’s potentially a lack of urgency considering the drastic advice
  • significant TAC adjustments are necessary to ease the pressure on cod
  • would like to see selectivity earlier but recognises the reasoning behind the process
  • agrees with industry views that impact of measures need to be demonstrable
  • a want for Scotland to take a leadership role and seek to get buy in from OMS
  • consideration for the way in which these decisions are communicated out to stakeholders and general public 
  • agrees with industry that integration with the likes of MPAs needs to be considered
  • a feeling that the Working Group needs to take a full eco-system based approach when considering measures
  • in the same vein, we need a suite of measures to ensure cod can recover and have long term sustainability – much of the conversation is regarding cutting cod catches but we need to also assess the wider ecosystem and how cod affects this
  • overall a positive and collaborative approach to challenging advice and a good approach to take with a desire to assess as we move forward


The chair thanked the group for their input and explained that we’re setting the bar high willingly, highlighting that the fish are primarily in our waters and that we are biggest beneficiaries. It’s important that we show leadership, show that this is what we’re prepared to do by stepping up to the plate. The chair acknowledges that evaluation and adaptivity will be important going forward

The chair ran through the conclusions from the round table, highlighting that there was broad agreement on the strategy and staged approach; with some disagreement on sizes of RTCs and details to be worked through on trigger points. He will brief the minister on all of these outcomes and give his own recommendation but ultimately the decision will be with the minster.

The chair then outlined the next steps, highlighting that we would be meeting with DEFRA the day after this meeting after which a note would be written to Mr Ewing with recommendations. The chair stated that we will try to leave York with an agreed UK strategy, which we will try and deliver on an EU/Norway wide scale. However, as this is part of an international negotiation there was no guarantee of success. 

The chair stated that he will be recommending 20 x 20 nm on RTCs to Mr Ewing but will highlight that this has little industry support, however we will act on his direction.

Update on stock advice and December council

The chair then introduced Ben Dipper to summarise the new stock advice (revised advice was released on Friday 8th November):

NS Cod

  • was -70%
  • now -61%


  • was -11%
  • now +23%
  • this presents opportunities and challenges (mixed fisheries).
  • CION has put out non-paper to ask for restraint with mixed species to minimise impact on cod (e.g. +7 instead of +23 for Haddock)
  • a number of Member States pushed back on this with the hope that we can remove cod from the equation and be more ambitious with the advice
  • mixed fishery advice is produced on the assumptions that catches remain the same as previous years so new measures are not taken into account

NS Whiting 

  • remains -12.5%


  • remains -14.7%


  • was -7.7% 
  • now +17.1%

NS Sole 

  • was -3.8% 
  • now +37%

NS Nephrops 

  • was +7% across all 
  • now Farn Deeps, Firth of Forth and Fladden have been increased to make the overall +11.5%

The group enquired how there can be such swings in percentages and Coby explained the autumn surveys can swing the forecast dramatically depending on the findings.

The group also raised questions about the legality of mixed fishery advice informing the wider approach and Ben explained that there was none, however, the North Sea Multi-Annual Plan (NS MAP) is the legal vehicle and there are issues how this is interpreted. We used the interpretation in the MAP to push back on the -70% Cod cut for example. Coby highlighted that mixed fishery advice has never yet been used in management decisions.

Ben then summarised the December Council approach highlighting that there would be a Ministerial write-round soon inviting views on priorities – things on our radar are:

NS Cod

  • some discussions formalising the package of measures discussed today – potentially just statements of action (workshops for selectivity).

TAC setting 

  • securing a TAC for WoS Cod and Whiting
  • a further bycatch TAC on WoS to avoid choke
  • CION disappointed in the NWW Bycatch Reduction Plan and there has been no EU proposals yet so this will go to December Council

Ling +5% 

  • CION proposed a rollover, seeking TAC increase in line with advice increase

NS Hake big cut in 2020

  • looking for a similar outcome as 2019 with a smaller cut in NS than WoS as stock is healthier

Rockall cod

  • choke on increasingly valuable Haddock industry
  • TAC is rolled over year after year unless science changes perception
  • UK will be seeking an increase in the Bycatch TAC

Top down adjustments

  • nothing from EU/Norway yet

Southern component of Blue Whiting

  • we will be looking for proportionate contribution from the southern component to any transfer made to Norway
  • the principal of fairness being at the forefront
  • it’s worth noting we have never had any traction on this


  • 2 way flexibility/Geographical flexibility from West>East and East<West of 15% 
  • currently working up figures to allow POs to manage quota to tackle NS challenges
  • NS Soak time issue potentially referenced in December council
  • Monk due a cut of -34% and surprisingly not capped at 20%


The chair then asked for any other business before closing.

Paul Macdonald informed the group that the industry led Real Time Reporting pilot project was coming toward the end of the first phase of development with fisherman and a functioning system would be in place as of next week. Marine Scotland will be making CION aware that this is under development and of its huge potential in the North Sea and also potentially in WoS. 

The chair highlighted that we are going to take a more proactive approach to our EU/Faroe negotiations, with a heavy focus on Cod/Haddock. Despite not being able to justify a heavy uptake we will be instructing our managers to fish in Faroese waters to avoid NS Cod as best as possible

The group enquired about any changes in effort from EU vessels in the North Sea, as discussed in a previous FMAC meeting. The chair replied that work had been done to find this out but it doesn’t show any increase in effort. 

There have been some industry complaints about the HUB (UKFMC) not working adequately on a Sunday and the Marine Scotland Compliance representative Stuart McCubbin agreed to raise the issue.

With no other business brought forward the Chair thanked the group and closed the meeting.  

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