Future of fisheries management in Scotland: national discussion paper

Seeks to start an in-depth nationwide discussion with stakeholders to help inform and develop Scotland’s Future Fisheries Management Strategy.


Brexit provides a new dynamic within the fisheries environment. Within this context we have a chance to look afresh at how we manage our fisheries to ensure they remain productive and sustainable for future generations. This paper seeks to start an in-depth discussion to help inform and develop the Scottish Government’s Future Fisheries Management Strategy. It contains a range of ideas and proposals to help deliver a future management structure which will firmly establish Scotland’s place as a world leader in responsible and sustainable fisheries management. Our overarching objective will be to maintain the long term structure of small family owned businesses to support and increase inclusive long term economic growth of the Scottish fishing industry.

The Context

The UK Government’s referendum on EU Exit marked the start of a significant period of change for the way in which we manage our fisheries in the future. With Brexit plans progressing, we have already embarked on a process which will see us leaving the Common Fisheries Policies (CFP)[1], which has, for the past 35 years, provided the overarching framework for how we manage our fisheries. Once Brexit takes effect a new regime will be required to ensure that Scotland’s fishing industry can continue to operate both legally and sustainably to the benefit of all stakeholders.

The Scottish Government is committed to delivering a sustainable, evidence based approach to the management of Scottish fisheries based on high quality scientific data. This commitment forms a key part of our overall approach to managing Scotland’s marine environment. It directly contributes to delivery of the Scottish Government’s Purpose, ‘to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth’. It also supports the delivery of the National Performance Framework, specifically the National Outcome: ‘We value and enjoy our built and natural environment and protect it and enhance it for future generations’ and the related National Indicator to ‘Improve the state of Scotland’s Marine Environment’.

Scotland’s reputation as a leading exponent of evidence-based sustainable fisheries management – progressed through constructive partnership working with the fishing industry, environmental interests and scientists – speaks for itself. This will continue into the future and will be underpinned by our commitment to meeting international obligations.

In the international context, there are a broad range of fisheries specific obligations, alongside wider marine management commitments, and our Future Fisheries Management Strategy needs to fit within this evolving framework. There is a need to take an ecosystem based approach to management ensuring sustainable, resilient stocks and avoiding damage to fragile habitats. This includes complying fully with a range of international conventions and obligations such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and regional obligations such as the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR). Our national and international commitments are summarised at Annex A.

As we further develop our international presence we will seek not just to meet targets set by others, but to set the bar high and challenge others to do the same. This will be reflected in our contribution to science, research and development and also in our approach to fisheries negotiations. We want fishers to share this aspiration through their conduct at sea.

Given the importance of the fishing sector to Scotland and the need for a clear strategic framework to be in place, this national discussion paper will assist us in providing a comprehensive strategy for Scotland’s sea fisheries. This is not to say we are starting from the beginning. Our National Marine Plan (NMP) sets out what sustainable development is and its guiding principle ensures that any individual policy, plan or activity in the marine environment is carried out within environmental limits. This principle guides all planning and decision making in the marine environment. We already have a number of clear and ambitious fisheries objectives set out within the 2018/19 Programme for Government[2].

Additionally, we have an Inshore Fisheries Strategy[3] in place, published in 2015, which sets out the guiding principles for growing and supporting Scotland’s diverse inshore sector. We are also taking forward a range of policies designed to improve and strengthen our management approach and the benefits which are realised from a successful fishing industry. Consequently, where needed, we are seeking to make improvements to policies which could benefit from a more tailored Scottish approach, including options for our future approach to discards.

These existing actions and policies will form part of our Future Fisheries Management Strategy. It will also form an important part of development of new strategic frameworks, for example an Environment Strategy for Scotland, which will help coordinate action and guide future activity across Scotland’s existing policies on the environment – including the marine environment. A discussion paper[4] published in June 2018, invited feedback on a draft overarching vision and set of outcomes to capture what our environment policies are collectively working to achieve.

Our future strategy will also support and align to the national food and drink strategy, Ambition 2030, which seeks to grow the value of Scotland’s food and drink sector – including the seafood sector – to £30 billion by the year 2030. Scottish Seafood continues to increase in global popularity. After whisky, seafood is Scotland’s second largest export. Scottish food and drink exports were worth approximately £6 billion in 2017, almost £570 million more than 2016; fish and seafood accounted for the majority of food exports and were worth approximately £944 million, up 23% from 2016. The Scottish Government is working in partnership with Scotland Food and Drink and the seafood industry body, Seafood Scotland, to deliver this strategy. Implementation of this strategy is being done through a series of sectoral action plans which will identify the specific opportunities, challenges and actions required within the sectors to drive growth. In particular the focus will concentrate on developing the onshore processing sector and enhancing our efforts to promote and market Scottish seafood across domestic and international markets.

Our Principles

Fishing makes an important contribution to Scotland’s rural economy and is the lifeblood of many of our most fragile coastal communities. We recognise that and wish to protect and encourage the fishing industry to grow in a sustainable manner, and for the benefits that flow from fishing to be realised in these communities wherever possible.

We want to make the most of our waters and encourage long term sustainable economic growth for the rural economy.

We are committed to taking a principled approach to our fisheries management to ensure clean, healthy, safe and productive seas, and the long term future of our world class fisheries sector.

Through our Future Fisheries Management Strategy we will be guided by a number of key principles. We will:

  • Maintain our commitment to relevant international law and working with other nations to ensure sustainability
  • Manage our fisheries in a way that protects biological diversity and which ensures that marine ecosystems continue to provide economic, social and wider benefits for people, communities and industry
  • Ensure that the interests of all marine and seafood sectors, including small businesses, are taken into account to ensure sustainable and inclusive economic growth
  • Set fishing limits in line with the best available scientific advice, using the precautionary principle, and aligned with the delivery of Maximum Sustainable Yield within an ecosystem context, in line with International obligations
  • Contribute to international fish stock data collection and analysis and seek to improve the quality of our data and evidence base
  • Take a sensible and proportionate approach to minimising discards and tackling unnecessary waste
  • Create an environment where fishing is seen as an attractive career of choice which will help alleviate some of the current crewing challenges
  • Support fishing and onshore seafood industries of all sizes to grow sustainably, and be internationally competitive, through building and maintaining access to markets

Successful management of sea fisheries in order to deliver positive and sustainable outcomes requires a balance between economic, social and environmental objectives. Achieving this balance can often be challenging as we seek to reconcile competing interests across communities and fishing sectors. As we move forward with our management proposals this will require careful handling, supported by an open and honest approach.

We will undoubtedly need to legislate, to address gaps identified as part of this process, to underpin key actions and measures and, where EU law no longer applies, to ensure that we can continue to play our role as a partner in International fisheries obligations and negotiations. We will ensure that any fisheries bill also provides for statutory measures for inshore fisheries.

The development of a Future Fisheries Management Strategy marks the start of a longer term process which will enable Scotland to assert and demonstrate its credentials as a world leader in responsible and sustainable fisheries management. We must strive to put the right building blocks in place and that means ensuring that robust consultation and engagement across all partners takes place.

It is also important to acknowledge that the proposals taken forward as part of the wider Strategy are all subject to wider government financial constraints. Future policy which evolves from the national discussion paper and into a formal consultation paper will require to be set against the available budgetary environment.

First Stage of Dialogue

In November 2017, the Scottish Government launched a dialogue on the Future of Fisheries Management in Scotland. Around 40 bilateral meetings were held in ports around Scotland, and these have since been supplemented by submitted written contributions and published papers from a range of stakeholders. Meetings were held with all sectors of the catching and processing industry, with environmental groups, local authorities and other marine stakeholders also involved.

This initial stage of dialogue has been invaluable in setting the scene, and highlighting key themes, concerns and aspirations for the future. We now wish to continue this dialogue and develop a system which is flexible to our varying needs, which is responsive and responsible, and which stays true to our core principles. Therefore, we want future fisheries management strategies to be developed in partnership and to ensure that any future strategies are representative of wider stakeholder views.

A number of key themes were highlighted during these initial stakeholder conversations.
These themes are reflected within this paper and include:

  • A strong emphasis on continuing to fish in a responsible and sustainable way, in line with meeting our International commitments.
  • The need for a robust evidence base to underpin our processes for establishing fishing opportunities.
  • A general acceptance that Total Allowable Catches (TACs) offer the most appropriate way of managing fishing levels in most cases.
  • A requirement to put in place a more workable discards policy which addresses the current challenges with the landing obligation.
  • A desire to consider the most appropriate way of allocating any increased fishing opportunities after Brexit.
  • The need to investigate options to support potential new entrants into the fishing sector and removing barriers which prevent the sector from growing and diversifying.
  • A focus on inshore fisheries, the need for inshore fisheries legislation, increased quota shares, and improved governance, data collection and monitoring.
  • The need for us to consider strengthening the way we co-manage our fisheries, improving governance and communication, and devolving management down to the appropriate local level.

Who is this discussion paper for and how to get involved?

The publication of this discussion paper marks the beginning of a longer process of discussion and collaboration which is necessary to ensure that Scotland’s Future Fisheries Management Strategy is developed in partnership and is representative of wider stakeholder views. We will, therefore, want to engage with you on some bold and new initiatives and we would welcome your responses and ideas to shape how we will manage our fisheries and our catching policy going forward.

Please submit your response via Citizen Space

or, alternatively send your written responses to:

Scottish Government
Sea Fisheries Division
Future Fisheries Management Discussion Paper
Victoria Quay

The Respondent Information Form is available in MS Word format

Please submit your response by 7th June 2019.

Next steps in the process

Your response to the Discussion paper will help shape the development of the Future Fisheries Management Strategy. We aim to publish a formal consultation document in Winter 2019. This will set out our agreed shared vision, with a set of concrete proposals and high-level priorities to help guide decisions over the coming years.

PfG Commitment


Email: ffm@gov.scot

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