- 11 May 2021
Attendees and apologies
- Alan Coghill, Orkney PO
- Simon Collins, Shetland
- James Anderson, Shetland
- Paul Macdonald, SFO
- Kevin McDonell, WSFPO
- Clara Johnston, Marine Conservation Society
- Elspeth Macdonald, SFF
- Kara Brydson, FIS
- Elena Balestri, SFF
- David Anderson, AFPO
- Mark Dougal, PJJ, Peterhead
- Leslie Tait, Shetland
- Mike Park, SWFPA
- Helen McLachlan, WWF
- Fiona Matheson, Orkney Fisheries Association
- Hannah Fennell, Orkney Fisheries Association
- Kenny Coull, SWFPA
- James Brown, DEFRA
- Elaine Whyte, Clyde Fishermen’s Association
- Lewis Tattersall, Seafish.org
- Elaine Whyte, CFA/CIFA
Marine Scotland staff:
- Allan Gibb (Chair), Deputy Director of Sea Fisheries
- Jane Macpherson, Future Catching Policy Team Leader
- Coby Needle, Chief Fisheries Advisor for Scotland
- Kerrie Campbell, Head of International Fisheries, Demersal Stocks
- Sebastien Delemarre, Policy Manager, International Negotiations
- Gordon Hart, Head of Access and Control
- Duncan MacGregor, Head of Coastal Operations
- Gregor McKenzie, Technical Assurance Lead, MS Compliance
- Warren Devine, Senior Policy Officer, Catching Policy Team
- David Hill, Policy Officer, Catching Policy Team
- Thomas Robertson, Marine Scotland Compliance, Central Investigations Unit
- Rob Kynoch, Marine Scotland Science, Fishing Gear Technologist
- Aoife Ann Martin, Seafish.org
- Robert Stevenson, Lunar FPO
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 primary aim of this meeting was to discuss North Sea cod, but would also cover AOB if needed.
Progress to date
The chair highlighted MS’ focus since the last meeting had been to review the feedback from FMAC and to consider where there was agreement and whether the proposals needed to be adjusted. In particular, MS had reviewed thoughts on selectivity and concluded it would not be appropriate for mandated action on highly selective gear at the time, but rather to pick up further selectivity considerations as part of the wider Future Catching Policy work. Prompted by an industry idea, we intend to proceed with the fish / mud proposal which does help increase the baseline mesh size for targeting fish.
Working with MS Compliance, the operational considerations around the proposal had been discussed. This had centred on the process for boardings and the reporting in/out of the FMC when the need for a RTC has been identified; but also around the idea of RTR and move on, and how this can be reported into the FMC and back out to vessels (including non-scot vessels).
MS had also been working with DEFRA colleagues on the concept of a UK plan for 2020, and also how the measures will be applied from 1 January 2021. The aim throughout has been to ensure equivalence across the UK fleet (as well as equivalence in the wider foreign vessel sense). This had also involved discussion on what action DEFRA intends to take in English waters, given the poor state of the stock there. DEFRA are going to consider this. For now, they are extending the concept of fish / mud areas into English waters.
End of year negotiations/ICES advice and science
The chair introduced Kerrie Campbell, the Head of International Fisheries, Demersal Stocks. Kerrie confirmed that the International Teams have started their virtual Stakeholder tour discussing end year priorities and will have met with most attendees of this call. As ever, these exchanges remain crucial for developing negotiating priorities. Contact details were circulated at the meeting for any follow up discussions.
One of the top priorities going forward is to start negotiations with our international partners with a strong narrative on NS Cod, demonstrating our action to recover the stock sustainably whilst being socio-economically viable and avoiding choke species in the NS.
This will be particularly important in terms of our reputation at international level for our first year as an independent coastal state. As our priorities evolve, we expect NS Cod to continue to dominate but in a trilateral negotiation we will have a stronger influence. Grateful for all input from stakeholders to date.
Implications on wider ICES discussions around the science
This plan puts us in a good space and through equivalence will be applicable to all who have access to our waters. It has been developed with the advice of our Scientists and will deliver a demonstrable benefit to the cod stocks, particularly because of the equivalence point.
At the last meeting, the work MSS had undertaken on the two stock components in the North Sea had been shared and Coby Needle had outlined the sequencing of the ICES WKNSCodID meeting and the planned benchmark for February 2021. We are encouraged by what we are hearing from the ICES group from first readout.
One of the hypothesis currently being looked at - Current best evidence from Peter Wright is for three distinct substocks (southern, north-western, north-eastern), but the WK will need to consider evidence and analyses from all participants. Longer term goal in nailing that down – but it remains an early judgement to consider three different TACs if there are three different stocks while our immediate priority is the North/South Sea. Further internal discussion with MSS will take place before sharing thinking and understanding after that point. This will feed in to our negotiating plan. It remains a key narrative for negotiation that we can’t ignore science input on TAC, and complementary measures on these.
NS cod benchmark planned for this winter anyway, so if we agree different stock structure, if so would need to develop landings and discards based on that (big undertaking) – main benchmark meeting in February. This is not a silver bullet for 2021 but it gives us a lot to build upon. We will be working with the rest of the UK as we take this forward.
Jane Macpherson confirmed that , as outlined at the last FMAC, Marine Scotland had concerns that the current EU cod measures as set out in Article 14 would be carried forward into retained EU law from 1 January 2021. This was an issue specifically because it would tie our hands in terms of delivering equivalence – parts of the EU fleet would be automatically exempt from having to do anything different in our waters. Jane noted that we don’t think this is fair, and we don’t think it offers the right protections for the stock.
Marine Scotland has therefore been working with Defra to hopefully arrange for Article 14 to be revoked, so that it will not apply in UK waters from 1 Jan 21. This revocation would happen as part of the UK Fish Bill.
However, in order for this to be justified and agreed magisterially and across other DAs we must have a set of measures agreed prior to 1 January 2021 which will apply to all vessels fishing in our waters. That’s why we are so focussed on getting the cod proposal agreed. Jane confirmed that we will also share the plan with Norway to give third country a heads up. It was noted that this may be quite a change for EU vessels.
Assuming FMAC’s agreement to the plan, Marine Scotland will work with the rest of the UK to seek their agreement for the measures to also apply to all UK vessels from 1 Jan. Assuming we are successful in this, we will introduce a licensing condition which will apply to all vessels fishing in Scottish waters regardless of nationality. That will ensure that the measures are applied on an equivalence basis.
Should there be any issues from a licensing perspective, we will instead put the measures into law via an SSI, meaning that they will apply to all vessels fishing in our waters. Equivalence remains key to delivering this plan
Jane confirmed the intention to send the plan to STECF and the Commission. Simon Collins asked about the STECF procedure – given we had left the EU in January, did we now need a competent authority to fill this role. Jane confirmed that we remained bound by EU rules until the end of transition, therefore we technically have to continue to submit to STECF. From 2021 we will be able to introduce our own laws independently from STECF.
Mike Park asked about policing and control going forward, in particular how policing will occur in accordance with other countries national directives from 2021. Jane clarified that any vessels fishing in Scottish waters will have to adhere to our plan and regulations and that this will be enforced if necessary.
Helen McLachlan asked will it be a UK plan that applies for UK waters and not just Scottish issued licensing conditions, ie will there be separate licensing conditions for the English part of UK waters? The chair confirmed that the intention is that this will be a UK plan, and that Marine Scotland will continue to work closely with DEFRA and hope to make any border issues easy to follow. This will be brought in to force through licensing or through SSIs.
National cod avoidance plan
The chair noted that we were seeking comment on this section, inviting stakeholders to ask questions via the IM system.
After the last meeting the group was in broad agreement that an outline for what might constitute a cod plan (based on all previous discussions) would be circulated. The technical paper was shared ahead of the meeting today.
The UK worked alongside EU Member States and Norway to establish ten spawning closures which came into effect on 01 January 2020. These measures will remain in place in 2021 remaining part of national COD plan. When the plan under discussion today comes in to force, if we wish to change or drop elements of the plan, this can be done at speed – unlike historical experience while an EU member. This would likely be reviewed on an annual basis.
Simon Collins asked if the review would be a regular feature at FMAC meetings. The chair responded that it should be reviewed as a matter of good regulatory management. A workable process could be to have a review as a standing item at FMAC meetings, with a dedicated annual meeting to formally review any outstanding matters. In effect we would continue to adhere to article 14 until the end of the year, then our national cod plan would apply for after that point.
Real Time Closures (RTCs)
It was noted that this had generated significant discussion at previous meetings.
There have been some adjustments to the proposal based on recommendations from the group which mostly relate to operability from a Compliance perspective to be practicable and work. The key point to remember is that there is a limit on the number of RTCs at any one time, cross-over with spawning closures will be limited to limit displacement issues, RTCs have worked well in the past, and this model improves on previous scheme because it’s based on actual boardings.
The chair went on to note the features of the RTC scheme, including the trigger mechanism:
Features of the RTC scheme:
- the application of RTCs for significant cod aggregations regardless of age class
- RTCs should apply to all gear types excluding pelagic
- RTCs are not to be established within 12nm of the coast to avoid difficulties with smaller inshore vessels
- each RTC should remain open for 21 days, with an option to run consecutively
- RTCs should be 15nm by 15nm in size
- the midpoint of tow will be used to establish the RTC, as agreed with Master of fishing vessel and then verified by track on plotter
- in terms of displacement and potential for hotspots the proposal was limited to 6 RTCs in place at any one time – as this would cover a lot of sea area
- haul by haul reporting
- RTCs will only be in operation when the main spawning closures are not. This means that RTCs will not be in operation from January to March, but can operate when the Foula Deeps closure is in place (November to December) and the Stanhope Ground (which runs until April) – for outlying spawning closures
- RTCs to be triggered by inspection at sea
- at the Boarding officer’s discretion, and in discussion with the Skipper, 5 boxes of catch (unsorted, preferably direct from the hopper) will be inspected to them to determine the catch composition (this is based on volumetrics only, no weighing at sea)
- if the cod present in the catch is 20% or more (i.e. 1 box) of the overall weight then officers should conduct a count. This was aiming to give as much flexibility as possible
- based on the entire haul, if the number of cod caught per hour, regardless of size, is 80 or more, then the area should be closed
- trigger thresholds are to be developed with feedback mechanisms to allow for necessary adjustments
- the Commanding Officer of the Marine Protection Vessel be designated with the overall responsibility of declaring a RTC, in close conjunction with Skipper of fishing vessel
- information shall then be transmitted to UK FMC so that the RTC can be communicated to the whole fleet as soon as possible. The UKFMC will issue an email notification to vessels, other FMCs (OMS/EFCA) and vessels in the vicinity of the RTC will be contacted directly. An email notification will be issued to FMAC, who will be asked to pass it on to their members, and details will be put on the Marine Scotland website as quickly as possible. The efficacy of communications will be kept under review. The location of the closure and the observed abundance would be the only data being circulated
Simon Collins asked that with an early iteration of the plan, there had been the idea to limit the number of RTCs around the Northern Isles, was this still the case? The chair confirmed that an emergency discussion among FMAC and other stakeholders could be called to review such events. The chair also confirmed that static gear vessels would be banned in RTCs.
Elspeth Macdonald asked about opening the area after a closure, whether any sampling would be required. The chair reiterate that the 21 day closure was not an exact science, but should give sufficient assurances that abundance will have dispersed. This plan would allow for closure again immediately if required.
Mark Dougal asked about the upper limits of the proposal – if 6 RTCs were already in place and another was called for. In such a scenario, we would seek to communicate with FMAC for a decision within a couple of hours to lift a smaller abundance closure and replace with the higher. The upper limit of closures would remain 6.
Helen McLachlan welcomed additional information on the trigger mechanism – would the vessel skipper call in the MPV to alert them? Was there capacity within the system for this to work? The chair confirmed skippers would be very welcome to call up a MPV, but this was not the design of the scheme. The scheme would be intelligence driven with inspections as a result of boardings. We were also confident with capacity as this had worked on a larger scale before with good feedback for STECF.
Mike Park confirmed that the paper had been distributed, with the only comment received in relation to the size and time of the closure, noting that 15x15nm equated to 225 sq miles. He did not feel the closure needed to be that big to be effective. The chair confirmed that the initial proposed size had been 21x21nm, but took on board reservations to revise to the now proposed area. Aware of industry issues with the scale, Mr Ewing had confirmed the 15x15 size. The chair reiterated that the scheme would be kept under review with the potential for changes to be made quickly if required.
James Anderson asked about closures around deep water sites, that there was not a lot of space to manoeuvre to be outwith the 15nm closure. The chair confirmed that there had been previous cases of this during the last closure scheme – in such instances a bespoke closure had been discussed and he was not aware of any instance where that was rejected. He noted that we needed to ensure that the scheme remained simple to implement and enforce, but that boarding officers would have full discretion to institute a closure. If representation was received after, this could be reviewed.
Mike Park asked what our approach will be with Norwegian vessels targeting cod with gill nets. The chair replied that for 2020, we can only encourage they stay out of the Scottish area as we don’t yet have equivalence post-transition. After 2020, we will be able to enforce our rules on all vessels in Scottish waters. If there were concerns about deliberately continuing to target cod, it would remain an intelligence based decision to intervene. He would defer to Compliance colleagues to make that decision.
Kenny Coull asked about the reporting area for RTR being larger than a RTC. The chair confirmed that a RTR was about avoidance, not a fixed closure. This would allow for fishers to exert their experience with an aim to spread awareness and information sharing. If a skipper goes in to that area and believes won’t catch cod, this will allow them to make that decision, though it was noted that the chances of being inspected were much higher.
Leslie Tait asked about altering the shape of a RTC. Also about the haul by haul reporting and how this would compare with real time. The Chair confirmed that the process would be the same as with existing third party waters. Each haul would be reported as if fishing in Norwegian waters. On altering shape, through experience, this often resulted in very complex shapes which were difficult to navigate. They would remain squared but reiterated above point responding to James Anderson.
Elena Balestri asked for clarity on what was defined as a high abundance. The chair confirmed that a closure would apply at 80 per hour, but again would defer to the professional decision of the skipper to allow for their experience to be considered. For RTRs, high abundance would be determined by the skipper.
Mark Dougal asked about the use of e-logs, and if a RTR area isn’t closed, when a skipper moves in that area and ends up catching cod, was this breaking the rules? The chair responded that this scenario does not exist for many boats, again deferring to the application of the skipper’s experience, but that the vessel would be much more likely to be inspected.
Helen McLachlan asked will MS Compliance have a particular level of observation on an area if it is closed. The chair confirmed this will be the case, and will look at VMS to factor in to the decision making process.
Real time reporting
The chair confirmed this had already largely been covered. An existing testing system was in place on the West Coast involving an app and website with a report due later this year. If that system proves to work, there will be an option to move across if needed, but that this system was “shovel ready” to be put in place effectively as soon as possible.
The chair noted that we had received strong feedback from FMAC industry members who did not want to introduce mandatory highly selective gear at this time. Issues included the need to let the science run through before taking action on selectivity, time to change gear and implement, and also the challenges around cod actually being selected out. There was support for the fish / mud areas however, so these will remain. It’s likely we’ll need to look at selectivity as part of the Future Catching Policy.
Features of the fish and mud areas:
- use a minimum gear size of 120mm in fish areas
- using a gear size of less than 120mm in mud areas will be permitted on the basis that mud areas are primarily Nephrops grounds. (maps / coordinates will be provided in coming days)
To put it plainly, the chair clarified if fishing not on defined mud areas, the baseline mesh size was 120mm. If on mud area and not that level, they would be committing an offence. DEFRA was looking at same concept in English waters and this will be shared shortly.
At this point Marine Scotland will not mandate the use of selectivity devices (in addition to those already in place). However, vessels are reminded that there are a range of selective gears available, in particular those developed recently in response to previous Cod avoidance plans which can be used.
Of particular use may be:
- Orkney trawl
- 600mm belly panel
- 135mm cod end
- 300mm SMP
It should be noted that the fish / mud area proposal will increase the mesh size being used when targeting fish to 120mm baseline, which supports increased selectivity outside of Nephrops grounds.
In response to a question on the one net rule, the chair confirmed this would be considered under the FCP.
Leslie Tait noted that 120mm was too big for some vessels. The chair confirmed this was the absolute minimum in a fish area. If an issue developed in relation to this, happy to look at again.
Simon Collins asked about the proposed map of fish / mud areas, agreeing in principle but would it show significant fishing above 60’. Coby Needle confirmed this would need to be examined in more detail. If drawing bespoke shapes these would need to be easy to manage and deal with from an industry perspective. This remains a work in progress.
Helen McLachlan asked will there be a reasonable understanding of how many vessels are opting to use more selective gear? The chair confirmed this will be the case. We are not asking for self-reporting but Compliance can check if required.
Kenny Coull asked about the Southern Trench area – whether it had been classified as a defined mud area as it was already a designated MPA. The chair noted that the MPA designation would be in relation to the mud environment, not the Nephrops themselves. Coby and Kenny would discuss this further offline.
Mike Park asked about this proposal in relation to ensuring the continuation of viable squid fishing. The chair was happy to discuss this issue separate to this meeting, and was happy to look at any industry proposals.
The chair also confirmed that the finalised fish/mud area map would be circulated as soon as possible.
Marine Scotland will not mandate the use of REM at this time, however it’s very likely that REM will be a key part of our Future Fisheries Management Strategy going forward and we will share plans in due course.
There will be no derogation from any of the measures contained within this document if REM is on board a vessel.
REM plans will be shared in due course. The exact composition of the REM in the fishing fleet was to be confirmed presently, but it was noted we have already stated our intention to roll out REM to the pelagic fleet per the Future Fisheries Management discussion paper.
The chair noted that he would wish to present this plan to Mr Ewing, and for discussion with DEFRA and other DAs as soon as possible. He noted that there were points of technical detail to iron out, but the discussion appeared to have indicated agreement in principal. This was accepted by the group.
The chair confirmed that if required, MSS work could evolve rapidly. This would mean that changes to rules and plans can be put in place quickly.
Mike Park asked about shares management – noting cod management was great, but was MS looking at this? The chair confirmed this was a discussion we would like to have internally before opening up for wider discussion. The focus would remain on science at the moment, but he acknowledged this complexity.
The chair was pleased with the positive discussion during this meeting, adding that the national cod plan looks like a sensible avoidance plan to complement future stock assessments and catching policy. In ongoing discussions with ministers, the chair will stress these proposals have been co-developed with the industry, and that a review pathway will be highlighted going forward.
FFM and Future catching policy
Jane Macpherson confirmed it had been some time since this was last raised, owing to obvious unique pressures particularly this year. There had been a very positive discussion with Mr Ewing earlier in the week. Reports on the discussion paper would hopefully be published online shortly.
It remains our intention to publish FFM before the end of this year. We anticipate that this will be a long term approach and see FMAC as a key forum to help deliver multiple stands of this management programme. A key part of this strategy would remain the Future Catching Policy (FCP), which would be delivered on working in partnership with industry. The process followed for NS Cod discussion with FMAC was seen as a good driver for the FCP, and something we’d like to take further forward together.
Responding to a question on prioritisation of different strands of this work, Jane confirmed we will be taking a staged approach. We remain keen to discuss implementation plans with stakeholders for buy in and with enough space to fully consider – while conscious of the need to not overload. The next stage of this work will be an overarching approach. While we don’t feel there is a need to consult on the strategy itself, there will be elements with space for contribution.
The next stage in this development would remain a high level document. It remained our intention to not consult on strategy, but on individual policies as ministers have been keen to not end up in a cycle of consultations. There remained a balance to strike with forums like this will remain key to strategic delivery in the future.
The chair concluded that we will tidy up some of this work and inform the minister on positive progress made today, with the caveat of all remaining issues discussed.
The chair added that he wished to make a statement on published stories quoting unnamed sources that the Scottish Government was deliberately undermining UK negotiations with the EU. The chair stressed that this was categorically not the case. The chair regularly attends the UK meetings with the EU and at no point (official or politically) had any suggestion of an alternative negotiating position been made.