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.

Chapter 4: Establishing fishing opportunities

4.1 A science-based approach to setting quota

Article 61 of UNCLOS[8] stipulates that a Coastal State “shall determine the allowable catch of the living resources in its exclusive economic zone. The Coastal State, taking into account the best scientific evidence available to it, shall ensure through proper conservation and management measures that the maintenance of the living resources in the exclusive economic zone is not endangered by over-exploitation”.

Further, “Such measures shall also be designed to maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), as qualified by relevant environmental and economic factors, including the economic needs of coastal fishing communities and the special requirements of developing States, and taking into account fishing patterns, the interdependence of stocks and any generally recommended international minimum standards, whether subregional, regional or global.”

In order to meet the requirements of UNCLOS, most of the commercial stocks fished by the Scottish fleet are managed by the use of Total Allowable Catches (TACs), the majority of which are agreed annually at a series of international negotiations. We believe this is the right way of establishing and managing fishing levels and will continue to use TACs as our primary stock management tool in the future. Where we have stocks that are jointly managed with other fishing nations we will work together with our international colleagues to establish TACs which are both responsible and sustainable.

Total Allowable Catch levels are informed by the best available independent scientific advice that is published annually or biennially by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Scientific advice utilised during this process draws on the best information available about each stock from surveys and fisheries data. For each stock, the advice provides a number of alternative TAC options, which are then considered at the context of international negotiations. In the future, Marine Scotland’s scientists will continue to contribute to ICES and we will continue to use ICES advice as the basis for TAC setting.

A recent development in EU fisheries management policy is the concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) ranges[9]. We believe that MSY ranges may offer a useful management tool and could potentially be used in the future to help us to establish sustainable TAC levels. We will continue to work towards achieving MSY for all our stocks, although we acknowledge that there are challenges in achieving this within a mixed fishery. We are not minded to establish targets for achieving MSY in any stocks at this stage but would welcome views on how best to work towards achieving MSY. We do also believe by way of providing stability that TACs should be constrained by how much they can go up or down and that this ‘plus and minus’ feature should be regularly used.

Discussion point:

Whilst we agree that we should continue to manage fishing stocks towards MSY we do not believe this can best be achieved by setting targets to achieve MSY by an arbitrary date. We will instead consider putting in place a sensible direction of travel, rather than focussing on undeliverable target setting.

We believe the use of MSY ranges may prove to be a useful tool in helping us to manage towards MSY in mixed fisheries.

Data limited stocks

ICES uses a precautionary approach in its advice for data limited stocks which is of lower confidence than that produced using the data-rich MSY approach. It is therefore difficult to say that TACs set for these stocks are sustainable in the longer term, even if ICES advice has been followed in the process. However, ICES advice is nevertheless still the best available option we have at the moment, so the only solution to this will be to increase efforts over a number of years to improve data collection for such stocks.

Challenges around data limited stocks are particularly acute in the inshore sector. If we are to have comprehensive and cohesive inshore fisheries management in the future then we will need a strong scientific base, together with effective compliance arrangements and an appropriate management framework. New and innovative technologies may offer a solution to some of these issues and could open up opportunities. We will need to be cautious, however, as there are limits on the precision of science, particularly in relation to inshore stocks. We will also need to consider this against wider budget resource issues.

Significant progress is already being made in this area. In recent years the Scottish Government has levered in £2.3 million in research funding to help modernise management of inshore fisheries, and improve the fisheries evidence base. Funded projects include the Scottish Inshore Fisheries Integra ted Data System (SIFIDS) project, a £1.5 m multi-partner initiative led by the University of St. Andrews that is investigating innovative technology and automated systems on vessels to improve data collection. This project will conclude in spring 2019 and we will consider how best to take forward its findings as part of our Future Fisheries Management Strategy.

Discussion point:

We understand the importance of improving our evidence base and we intend to divert resources for science, data collection and analysis towards targeted data limited stocks in order to strengthen assessments in the future.

We will consider the recommendations from the SIFIDS[10] project to help improve the data we can collect for inshore fisheries and are committed to introducing enhanced technology on a sentinel inshore fleet to further improve science.

We will also look at simplification of data collection and will learn from international experience and other examples in doing this.

Principles for TAC setting

A number of principles will underpin our approach to setting TAC levels and negotiating with other countries as part of the process to establish fishing levels on an international basis. The Scottish Government will:

  • use the best available scientific advice, including that based on the precautionary approach for data limited stocks, when developing our negotiating strategy;
  • maintain our commitment to the MSY principle and progress towards sustainable fishing levels for all stocks in a way that does not create choke situations or significant socio-economic impacts;
  • not condone automatic ‘use it or lose it’ cuts in the TACs for data limited stocks and will instead base our views on stock specific examination of trends;
  • in mixed fisheries, support the use of MSY ranges and mixed fishery analysis to allow sustainable TACs to be set simultaneously for all stocks caught together;
  • in non-mixed fisheries, e.g. pelagic, continue to support the development of single-species Long Term Management Strategies;
  • aim to maintain stocks above safe biological limits and in good reproductive health with provisions for rectifying stock difficulties as they occur;
  • support the development of comprehensive international sharing agreements wherever possible, but not at any cost to Scotland’s interests;
  • ensure that stakeholders’ views are heard and considered when preparing for negotiations and continue to work closely with them as the talks proceed;
  • contribute data and expertise to the international fisheries science effort, and improve our evidence base by co-operation with international partners and the fishing industry;
  • consider whether, where and how to resource increased efforts to collect new data to address the challenges posed by data limited stocks;
  • consider socio-economic impacts and markets when establishing fishing opportunities.

Discussion point:

We will have a number of priorities which will drive our approach to agreeing and managing fishing levels in the future. We would welcome further discussions with stakeholders on these priorities.

We will always seek to maintain the highest standards of responsible behaviour when establishing fishing levels and will seek to challenge our international partners to do the same.

4.2 TAC vs Effort

There has been much debate about moving away from TACs towards an effort based system. In general TACs and quotas allow management on a clear scientific basis and allow socio-economic and environmental objectives to also be taken into account. Complexities can arise, however, in mixed fishery situations. Effort controls are less reliant on robust stock assessments (which can be advantageous when these don’t exist) and can help in data-poor mixed fisheries. However, effort controls can also create a race to fish and it is more difficult to ensure that levels of catches are sustainable.

Globally, TAC systems are the norm in fisheries management, seeking to directly control the output from a fishery in terms of tonnage caught. While the system is not without faults, it has proven a simpler and more effective way to manage most fisheries. Discussions which favour effort over TACs also tend to ignore the international obligation that we are under for most stocks to set a catch limit. In doing so we clearly cannot have an isolated effort based system.

There may be occasions, for example for some single species, where effort or activity may be considered as a control mechanism, particularly for sedentary and dispersed stocks where there is inadequate information on stock biology for the establishment of TACs. However, in the mixed fisheries of the North Sea and West of Scotland we see effort as neither a sensible nor deliverable management approach. Therefore the Scottish Government will continue to use TACs as the primary method of establishing fishing opportunities in the future.

There may be merit in considering introducing quotas for current non TAC species where a fishery is known to be clean and have a high rate of survival.

Discussion point:

The Scottish Government will continue to use TACs as the primary method of managing most fish stocks in the future. We also consider there to be merit in at least some cases for introducing quotas for non TAC species, for example shellfish.

4.3 Quota Management System

It is the Scottish Government’s stated aim that we will do everything we can to ensure Scottish fishing quota is retained in the hands of active Scottish fishermen, and that quota speculation is ended.

The UK Government is the current allocating authority for UK fish quotas. It apportions UK fish quotas, received from the EU following annual quota negotiations, amongst UK Fisheries Administrations pro-rata to the Fixed Quota Allocation (FQA) units associated with the licences administered by each Administration.

After receiving quota from the UK, each of the four UK Fisheries Administrations (FAs) distributes this quota to its fishers. For Scottish fisheries these allocations are made by the Scottish Government according to the FQA method for most quota stocks.[11]

The Scottish Government (and the other Administrations) issue most of their allocations to Fish Producer Organisations (POs).There are 10 POs in Scotland and these are administered directly by Marine Scotland. POs manage their members’ quotas on their behalf and some seek to market their landings.

The landings of vessels that are not PO members (known as the “non-sector” in the case of over 10 metre vessels, and the “10 metre and under” fleet) are managed directly by the Scottish Government (see following section).

The Scottish Government is committed to the continued use of the FQA system as the main means of allocation of fishing opportunities as this acknowledges the investment made by fisheries businesses and provides a degree of stability and certainty for future investment.

This means that POs are likely to continue to play an important role in the future. However, we also want to consider broadening the pool of quota management organisations, and we want to explore the option of devolving the management of individual fisheries to more local groups.

Improving the FQA system
Improvements to the existing system can be made and were explored under the Scottish Government’s 2014 consultation on allocation of fish quotas. This included a consideration of establishing criteria on persons able to hold quota. Although it is difficult to estimate, there are potentially significant amounts of quota held by individuals and companies with no direct interest in the fishing industry who are effectively using quotas as a speculative asset. The impact of this behaviour is to inflate costs associated with quota leasing disadvantaging small scale fishers in particular. The Scottish Government will bring forward measures to minimise such speculation.

Non-sector vessels
Vessels which are part of a PO have sector licences which carry FQA units. Those vessels out with POs have non-sector licenses and cannot lease quota from other vessels. These non-sector vessels obtain fishing opportunities through targeting non-quota species, such as scallop, crabs and lobsters, or by fishing against Scottish national pools with set monthly limits on catches. There are two pools, one for vessels of 10 metres and less, comprising mainly Nephrops and some finfish quota, and an over 10 metres vessel pool almost solely comprised of Nephrops. The over 10 metres non-sector fleet sector are therefore confined to fishing against Nephrops quota or for non-quota species. There are 156 and 1430 non sector licences for the over 10 metres and under 10 metres sectors respectively currently active in the Scottish fishing fleet.

The original reason for distinguishing the two groups of non-sector vessels was to account for historical differences in fishing power between over 10 metres and under 10 metres vessels. With the development of technology and more efficient vessel design that rationale is now largely irrelevant. It is therefore questionable that two separate non-sector pools remain necessary.

Both non-sector segments have very restricted fishing options and limited ability to diversify into other fisheries. Increasing the quantity and number of stocks that the non-sector could fish would help relieve pressure on non-quota stocks and allow non-sector vessels to diversify.

There are a number of management options that could be considered to better manage the non-sector section; allowing them to lease quota, establishing stock specific POs, allocating a greater amount and range of quotas to the pools. Each would have different impacts and represent a significant change to the way we currently manage quota in Scotland.[12]

Discussion point:

The Scottish Government is committed to ending quota speculation and will bring forward measures to adjust this.

The recently published UK Fisheries White Paper makes a number of suggestions regarding future management of fisheries. Whilst the majority of these are for England only, we are clear that actions taken in England and elsewhere in the UK cannot and must not impact negatively on opportunities allocated to Scotland or the ability of the combined UK to act responsibly in meeting international obligations. The reverse is also true and where we take decisions for the Scottish fleet we will also be mindful of the potential impacts on the rest of the UK.

Diversions of rules is already common place and whilst commonality is helpful in many cases for businesses, different rules can equally be appropriate. These will have no negative effect on the functioning of internal UK markets.

We want to continue to expand delegation of quota management to industry in the future. We want to explore whether this could be opened up beyond Producer Organisations and whether there could be a role for IFGs as well as distinct geographic local communities.

We want to work with stakeholders to consider options for better management of the non-sector and would welcome stakeholders views on this.

4.4 Fishing Opportunities after Brexit

Fish are a public resource and as such the benefits from fishing should be shared as widely as possible. We support the sustainable growth of the fishing sector and, with this growth, want to see more people involved in the marine fishing industry.

As part of this we are already committed to developing a new entrants scheme and will seek to support new entrants into the sector through our policies. Future policies will include prioritising funding, ensuring access to appropriate fishing opportunities and associated licences, and additional support such as business advice to support new entrants to become established.

There are expectations from many in the fishing industry about the level of additional quota which may be achieved after the UK’s departure from the EU. However, the identification of additional opportunities is challenging as TACs can fluctuate year on year and sometimes on a significant scale. Whilst our primary method for allocating quota will be on a FQA basis, where additional opportunities are identified, we will seek to divert a portion of this away from the current FQA model, particularly where it can help us deliver inclusive economic growth through diversification and supporting new opportunities in our own waters and further afield. There may, of course, be stocks where our share could legitimately be less depending on the criteria used.

The primary identifier of additional quota shall be where our share changes; for example, if we had a 30% share of a stock and over time that becomes 40% then there is a genuine 10% additional quota regardless of TAC fluctuations.

We believe that, where identified, at least 50% of additional quota should be used and distributed separately to the FQA system.

Our approach to international negotiations is likely to play an important role in realising additional quota opportunities after Brexit. The Scottish Government will play a full and active role in realising, through domestic and international negotiation, any benefits we can after leaving the EU; recognising that no future arrangements will be as beneficial for the seafood sector as our existing membership of the EU and that there are risks around trade barriers and non-tariff barriers that our exporters are all particularly susceptible to. We will do this by:

  • supporting and holding the UK government to account on its promise to negotiate future access arrangements and fishing opportunities on an annual basis, and preventing any attempt by the UK Government to allow permanent access to the Scottish zone as part of future trade deals;
  • fully supporting UK efforts to move away from relative stability TAC shares towards a more objective and science-led approach reflecting zonal attachment and ensuring this approach is pursued in all relevant negotiating fora;
  • reserving the right to adopt our own approach to the allocation of additional future fishing opportunities; the Scottish Government is open to proposals as how to maximise benefits deriving from such quota; this in turn is likely to influence negotiating priorities for future discussions with the EU and other partners;
  • ensuring that any UK allocation of additional fishing opportunities between UK Fisheries Administrations reflects zonal attachment;
  • asserting our rights as the lead partner and pursue new opportunities in UK and Scottish waters or in more distant waters with the UK Government engaging in new negotiating fora (i.e. other RFMOs of interest). For example, Atlantic bluefin tuna which now features regularly in our waters.

Discussion point:

Although it is not certain that additional quota opportunities will be delivered in the future, where we do have additional quota to allocate, our areas of priority will be to incentivise new entrants (as part of a specific new entrants scheme), to allocate conditionally against good practice/ sustainability and to develop additional inshore activity in support of coastal communities. We will learn the lessons of the past and not create a bank of new FQA units in doing so supporting the principle that this is a national asset.

The primary identifier of additional quota shall be where our share changes; for example, if we had a 30% share of a stock and over time that becomes 40% then there is a genuine 10% additional quota regardless of TAC fluctuations.

We believe that, where identified, at least 50% of additional quota should be used and distributed separately to the FQA system.

Through a combination of annually negotiated bilateral access agreements, a gradual recalibration of TAC shares to reflect zonal attachment, and the UK’s assertion of its rights as an independent Coastal State, we will pursue the potential progressively to generate a range of new fishing opportunities for the Scottish fleet.

It is the intention of the UK to use zonal attachment criteria as the basis for adjusting shares of quota on a fairer basis between Coastal States, a position which we support. That being the case there is no reason not to use the same argument for allocating additional quota in the same way, domestically between all 4 administrations and we would expect this to be the case.

4.5 Making the most of Scottish Fishing Opportunities

Much of the Scottish caught seafood is landed in Scotland, particularly demersal fish and shellfish, with small quantities also landed in the rest of the UK. Landing into Scottish ports brings local economic benefits, helps maintain the viability of Scottish ports and safeguards jobs in Scotland’s fish processing factories.

However, the picture looks quite different for pelagic landings where large quantities of Scottish mackerel and herring are landed into Norway and Denmark. In 2017, Scottish vessels landed £70M mackerel abroad (95,000 tonnes) which represents over half of the value and tonnage of the Scottish mackerel fisheries. Despite increases in the prices paid for mackerel landed into Scottish ports, Scottish pelagic processing plants struggle to access sufficient tonnages of pelagic stocks to ensure they remain economically viable.

Some other Scottish registered vessels fishing against Scottish quota also land demersal species abroad, particularly demersal stocks into Dutch ports. Although Scottish registered, these vessels are generally owned by foreign interests.

Scotland’s fish stocks are a public asset and we wish to see this resource used to optimise sustainable economic returns to Scotland. We will therefore seek to increase the economic benefits to Scotland’s fishing communities by amending the current economic link licensing condition (currently the same economic link criteria is used throughout the UK).

The amended economic link condition will mean that Scottish fishing vessels must either:

  • Land at least 55% of catches into Scottish ports, or
  • Provide quota gifts (similar to the system currently in place in which gifted quota is distributed by the Scottish Government to vessels registered in Scotland).

This proposal will provide a more equitable distribution of the economic benefits of an important Scottish asset. We believe that the new economic link licence condition will provide economic gains for coastal communities and help secure employment in fish processing plants across Scotland.

In addition, Scottish Government efforts to secure fishing opportunities should always, in the first instance, benefit Scottish communities and onshore activities which will maximise the contribution to inclusive economic growth.

Discussion point:

The Scottish Government is committed to the principle that fish are a national asset.
Our policies and interventions will be designed to support that

Our policies and priorities will reflect our objectives of creating and sustaining jobs and income for the wider fisheries sector including processors and ancillary service providers. We are committed to increasing the economic benefits to our local fishing communities by strengthening the economic links between fishing vessels and local communities.

Skippers will have a choice of establishing this economic link through a quota gifting scheme, or meeting a landing target. Such a scheme will allow skippers to make rational business choices about how they can most appropriately meet the economic link criteria to the benefit of Scotland.

4.6 Future Catching Policy

The Scottish Government remains fully committed to the principles which underpin the landing obligation: reducing waste and increasing accountability. It is not acceptable for fishers to return large, marketable fish to the sea, dead.

However, there are still a number of fundamental issues with the implementation of the EU landing obligation with compliance across Europe believed to be low and continued strong resistance from the fishing industry. In addition, the threat of so-called choke species will have significant consequences for our fleet if the outstanding issues are not resolved.

Whilst the UK remains part of the EU we will continue to engage positively and pragmatically in discussions with Member States and the European Commission to address issues with the discard ban, recognising that the Scottish Government will not tolerate a situation where our fleet is prevented from fishing because pragmatic solutions to choke problems were ignored.

However, once the UK leaves the EU, it is important that we take stock and agree a way forward which results in the implementation of a workable policy in the future.

We have already begun a process to develop Scotland’s Future Catching Policy (FCP), in consultation and collaboration with our stakeholders through the Scottish Discards Steering Group (SDSG). Within this work we recognise that the issue of discards must not be considered in isolation, but rather as part of a broader framework of fisheries management.

In partnership with the SDSG, we have agreed a set of guiding principles which will underpin Scotland’s FCP. First and foremost we agree that we must protect the sustainability of fish stocks and the wider marine environment as well as deliver accountability and confidence in our future policy.

Fundamental to having a workable catching policy in place is recognising that a one size fits all approach is not appropriate. Successful management will require fisheries managers to tailor their approaches to individual fleet segments. We are particularly interested in proposals which would see a more cooperative approach to rule setting, based in part on the Norwegian model, which would provide a much greater role for the fishing industry and which would fit with our aspirations around establishing a more flexible, reactive and responsive management structure. For example, in many fleet segments it is possible to enhance selectivity through a range of technical measures. We want to work with stakeholders to agree what this package of additional measures looks like, recognising the need for buy-in and for the measures to be proportionate to the problem they are seeking to solve.

We also believe that we should work with stakeholders on the distribution of, and access to, quota so that it can contribute to the successful delivery of the FCP by ensuring that, for as long as quota is available, fishers will be able to cover their catches.

We will wish to continue exploring options for our FCP in partnership with the SDSG to consider the practicalities and ensure that a workable policy can be established for the future.

Discussion point:

We continue to support the principle of a discard ban - it is unacceptable to return good fish back to the sea dead. But we must, in partnership with stakeholders, develop a management system that supports this and can work in practice. We will consider ring-fencing quota to help fishers to operate legally within such a system, as well as using it to reward and/or incentivise best practice in innovative fishing techniques or methods.

We intend to continue using the SDSG as our focus group and sounding board in the development of a future catching policy that can deliver this aspiration.

We must also consider and address the short term implications associated with lack of compliance with the discard ban. The fact that additional quota has been received by vessels (known as ‘quota uplift’) to cover what was previously discarded, whilst discarding continues presents a very real risk to the sustainability of key stocks as well as our own very high international reputation. This situation must be resolved.

4.7 Technical and Spatial Conservation Measures

The governing rules and regulations which determine what behaviours and equipment fishing vessels deploy at sea are currently established through very complex legislation. Whilst the EU is taking steps to reform this, further simplification may well be needed. We want to explore with stakeholders how best to streamline current rules and regulations, whilst clarifying what our expectations are of fishers’ roles in achieving wider sustainability outcomes. We also want to consider where we can be more responsive to changes in the fishing environment. Accordingly, this could for example make it easier for new gear to be rolled out on a commercial scale once successful scientific trials have been undertaken.

These aspirations link to our proposed approach for the Future Catching Policy, which would see a more responsive and inclusive approach, with fishers better embedded into the process for determining the rules which they collectively need to abide by.

Discussion point:

We want to work with stakeholders to consider a more responsive approach to the setting of technical conservation measures and spatial management rules. We also want to establish a clear statutory framework that will seek to encourage and better manage behaviour and use of equipment.


Email: ffm@gov.scot

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