6.0 Results of the SEA
6.01 This section sets out the findings of the assessment of the environmental effects of the IFG proposals. Details are provided in the assessment tables in Appendix 3.
6.02 In undertaking the assessment, it became clear that the effects of some of the proposed measures would be uncertain. These comprise the control or monitoring of hobby fishermen and seeking a review of current squid prohibitions. For the former, there is a lack of information about the activities of hobby fishermen, and so it is not clear whether control or monitoring of their activities would give rise to environmental effects. For the latter, it is not clear whether the lifting of current prohibitions on squid fishing would result in environmental effects.
6.1 Biodiversity, flora and fauna
6.1.1 The key issues for biodiversity from fishing are:
- The removal of stock, with direct effects on populations and indirect effects on predators
- Bycatch, both fish and other species such as birds and cetaceans
- Damage to the seabed and benthic communities from fishing gear, particularly trawling and dredging gear
6.1.2 Several of the IFG management proposals have the potential to contribute to increased sustainability of fish stocks, a beneficial effect:
- Measures that increase the proportion of the stock that survive to reach reproductive size, such as increased MLS, management of bycatch and discards, and v-notching berried lobsters, may have a beneficial effect. For example, if stock is currently overfished, increasing MLS may reduce fishing mortality; v-notching and returning lobsters to the sea allows them to continue to breed until the notch grows out. The success of these measures, however, will depend on the survival rate of returned individuals. In addition, they will not succeed if there is a concomitant increase in fishing mortality for larger-sized individuals. For Nephrops, if increases in MLS are to have potential beneficial effects, gears with increased mesh sizes may be required to allow undersized individuals to escape.
- The development of new fisheries has the potential to have a beneficial effect, providing that they reduce pressure on other stocks (this assumes effort is diverted). However, if these measures were to increase total fishing activity (and mortality), this could increase the pressure on stocks and ecosystems. By-catch may also be an issue. This could be offset by following the principles set out in the fisheries accreditation schemes. It should also be noted that data regarding both existing and potential new inshore stocks is not available, and it would therefore be difficult to assess whether pressure on existing fished stocks was being reduced. Even with the data, there could only be a potential environmental benefit if all things stayed equal.
6.1.3 Proposals to gather data in support of opening new fisheries may have an adverse effect on the seabed, depending on the method utilised ( e.g. dredge survey, use of environmentally intrusive sampling methods). It is not clear whether such effects would be significant. The potential positive and negative effects of opening new fisheries are discussed in paragraph 6.1.2.
6.1.4 Bottom trawling and dredging can change the physical habitat and biological structure of ecosystems, with some habitats extremely sensitive to disturbance, and can therefore have wide-ranging consequences. There are few measures proposed that would reduce damage to the seabed, apart from those which propose to investigate "static gear only" zones for Nephrops in areas with multiple resource use, and to explore funding for new fishing techniques/trials. The effect of proposed static sector controls on the seabed is uncertain, as there is little evidence to suggest that disruption of the seabed from creels is significant. In consequence, the possible benefit of reducing fishing intensity (through reducing creel numbers) is uncertain. Larger benefits may occur, should these measures extend to other methods of fishing as well, e.g. bottom trawling. Measures to support and investigate new gear (including to reduce bycatch and discards) may not only have a beneficial effect through improved selectivity and reduced by-catch, but could potentially reduce effects on the integrity of the seabed.
6.1.5 The proposal to promote the use of an eco-dredge is a measure that may have a positive effect, through the reduction of damage to the seabed. However, this gear is still in development and its effectiveness remains to be proven. The accompanying proposal that fishermen should work to the UK Scallop Code of Conduct (the UK Scallop Industry Good Practice Guide) may also have such benefits. However, although the negative effects of scallop dredging may be reduced, there will likely remain some impact on the seabed and the habitat that it supports.
6.1.6 For a variety of reasons, in this round of developing management proposals, IFGs have focused on controls on the static sector (such as the introduction of creel limits). These include capping the numbers of creels and/or vessels, the introduction of permits and effort control. These reflect the perception of fishermen that in some areas creel numbers have increased significantly in recent years, that the grounds are crowded with creels and catch rates are low. These initiatives may be beneficial where at present few or no management measures are in place, by providing management and protecting stocks. However, it is not clear that control of the creel fishery alone would improve shellfish stocks, given that mobile gear is used by 20% of the inshore fleet, and that these vessels catch many more fish and shellfish.
6.1.7 Any proposals to open new wrasse fisheries in support of aquaculture (to effect biological control of sea lice) will need to be carefully considered in terms of sustainability of wild stocks. It is recognised that wild populations alone are unlikely to be able to sustain such a requirement and data gathering will be required to assist with improved understanding of stocks and biology.
6.1.8 There is potential for current dredging and trawling methods to affect Priority Marine Features and the proposed Marine Protected Areas in territorial waters. This issue will be explored more thoroughly in the sustainability appraisal of the Marine Protected Areas, so will not be assessed further here. However, this is an issue that the IFGs may wish to be aware of and consider in the future, not only in terms of effects on Priority Marine Features and Marine Protected Areas, but also in terms of the effects of these fishing methods on the wider benthic environment and the potential for this to affect long-term viability of fishing grounds.
6.1.9 The proposal to continue to seek sustainable fisheries accreditation (the principles of which are discussed in Section 4) may have positive effects on biodiversity. The principles of accreditation include that a fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-exploited stocks, and should allow for the maintenance of the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends. The criteria against which fisheries are assessed relate to stock status and management and reduce the effects of fishing on the ecosystem. For many inshore fisheries gaining, or working towards gaining, accreditation is likely to involve monitoring, stock assessments and changes in practices. Meeting these principles is likely to be beneficial for promoting sustainable stocks, working towards good ecological status and maintaining and protecting the integrity and character of the seabed. The latter is particularly relevant to trawling and dredging activities that disrupt the seabed.
6.2 Climatic Factors
6.2.1 Proposed measures to support fuel efficiency through, for example, the use of lighter gear, or investigating the possibility of using alternative fuels such as hydrogen, have the potential for a positive effect on climatic factors, through the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
6.2.2 Future iterations of the IFG Management Plans would likely benefit from considering the impact of climate change on inshore fisheries, e.g. in terms of trip length, catch volumes, etc.
6.3 Cultural Heritage
6.3.1 None of the proposals are directed to the enhancement of the historic marine environment or the avoidance of coastal and marine archaeology. Any measures that will maintain and protect the integrity of the seabed will be of benefit to the historic environment, through reducing loss of and/or damage to features of importance. Some of the proposals may reduce damage to the seabed, through changes in gear type or intensity. The main proposal with benefits for the historic environment is fishery accreditation; one of its key principles is to minimise environmental impact: "Fishing operations should be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends" (Box 1). This would include maintenance of seabed integrity, which is particularly relevant to reducing the risk of damage to archaeological features.
6.4.1 The IFG management proposals include a proposal to ensure that the landing and infrastructure requirements of the fishing fleet are identified. This could include such measures as seeking to investigate and support the maintenance and development of landing areas and supporting infrastructure (including quays and jetties for services such as access to fuel and storage facilities for gear). In the long- term, such development has potential negative effects, particularly during construction, e.g. the loss of and/or damage to habitat, disturbance of fish and mammals, increased pollution risks, etc. It is likely that such development would require planning and/or licensing consent, and such negative environmental effects would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis as part of this process.
6.5 Cumulative Effects
6.5.1 The Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 requires the consideration of cumulative and synergistic effects that may arise, in this case, from the implementation of the measures detailed in the IFG management plans.
6.5.2 Some of the measures in the IFG management plans are likely to complement one other and result in a significant positive effect. For example, increasing minimum landing size, the v-notching and return of berried fish, and seeking fisheries accreditation should lead to a greater positive effect on stocks. This would also be supported by measures to reduce bycatch and/or discards.
6.5.3 Few of the proposals would increase damage to the seabed, apart from the possibility of opening a winter cod fishery, and the effect of this would depend on the gear to be used. However, there are few measures proposed to reduce damage to the seabed, apart from exploration of funding to support gear change and support for use of the eco-dredge.
6.6.1 The IFG management plans set out proposed measures that have the potential for significant environmental effect and have therefore been subject to strategic environmental assessment. The proposed measures focus primarily on ensuring the future of fisheries through measures to stocks, including:
- activities to support the opening of new and/or closed fisheries, including the collection of baseline information.
- fisheries management measures e.g. permit control, increases in minimum landing sizes, restrictions on gear, reduction of discards/bycatch
6.6.2 Taken together, some of the proposals may result in positive effects on fish stocks, depending on how they are implemented. These may be of benefit to the long-term sustainability of fish stocks and therefore of the fishing industry which relies on them.
6.6.3 There are few measures proposed that would reduce damage to the seabed, and few resulting benefits for the seabed and its biodiversity and historic environment interests.
6.6.4 Proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will be of benefit to climate change. A key measure with overall benefits is the proposal to pursue sustainable fisheries accreditation.
6.6.5 It should be noted, however, that implementation of this and many other of these measures will require substantial data gathering and analysis, both for existing stocks and potential new ones. It is likely that this will require significant time and resources, and the potential environmental benefits are therefore more likely to be realised in the long-term, rather than immediately.
6.6.6 It should also be noted that, although the majority (over 75%) of inshore fishermen use static gear, principally creels, it is not the only form of fishing with an environmental impact on inshore waters. Mobile gear, especially dredges and trawls, is used by some 20% of vessels and these vessels catch many more fish and shellfish. They also have impacts on the marine environment and there will be an expectation that mobile fishing would feature more prominently in IFGs' considerations in the future.
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