Chapter 5: Access to Fishing
5.1 Fishing capacity
Ensuring fishing capacity does not exceed fishing opportunities is a key concern for fisheries administrations. The Scottish Government, as with all other UK Fishing Administrations, operates a restricted fishing vessel licensing system which sets an upper limit on fleet capacity. Licensed capacity takes the form of vessel tonnage and engine capacity (in kilowatts). Both tonnage and engine capacity licence components can be transferred, aggregated and disaggregated so that the configuration of the fleet can over time adjust to changes in fishing patterns and markets. However, currently additional capacity cannot be created and no new licences are issued. New entrants into the industry must first obtain a fishing entitlement (that is a fishing licence with adequate capacity for their vessel) before they can begin commercial operations.
The restrictive nature of licensed capacity leads to competition for licences increasing their value. This has, in part, led to a consolidation of the fleet, particularly in the pelagic and North East demersal fleet as larger, more economically efficient operators buy up licences to enable them to purchase larger, more powerful and efficient vessels.
Small scale and coastal fishers can find it difficult to compete with larger vessels for additional capacity. In order to afford some protection to this sector the Scottish Government has established rules which prevent licences for vessels of length 10 metres and under being transferred to larger fishing interests. Furthermore, measures are in place to allow the dissociation of shellfish entitlements from over 10 metres vessel licences in order to sustain shell fishing opportunities in coastal waters when a license is acquired by a larger offshore vessel.
The Scottish Government believes it is vital to continue to manage fishing capacity in line with available fishing opportunities. Fishing opportunities do vary year to year depending upon fish abundance, however the industry is generally able to catch a high level of stocks available, with quota uptake high across our main commercial stocks. This means we need to exercise caution against increasing capacity, except for under certain circumstances and where we can be sure that there will not be a detrimental effect on our fish stocks.
The pelagic fleet may be a special case as these fisheries are limited by TACs and seasonality. Releasing capacity constraints would in principle lead to no change in fishing behaviour for this fleet. Any increase in engine power or tonnage would lead to quotas being taken earlier in the season, resulting in a shorter fishing season. Removing capacity restraints for the pelagic fleet would result in reduced competition for licenses, thus facilitating the upgrading and modernisation of new smaller vessels.
Although we will avoid relaxing fishing capacity constraints unless there is a substantial and permanent increase in fishing opportunities available to the Scottish fishing fleets, we are open to considering whether capacity limitations are relevant to the management of fishing activity in the pelagic sector. We will also consider the creation and sale of additional licences for the pelagic sector in line with additional opportunities. These licences will be supported by accompanying quota.
Also in the context of additional opportunities, for example distant water fisheries, the Scottish Government considers it appropriate to create additional and new licences supported by accompanying quota, distributed freely and based on submission of business plans allocated through lottery if oversubscribed. Additionally, within our own waters the same principle should apply to new entrants assuming that there is clear evidence that additional capacity will not have a negative effect on the stocks.
Considering our views on increased capacity we will commit to looking at creative ways in which we can provide additional licences and quota to assist new entrants into the system across all vessel types. Quota will not be given on an FQA basis but retained by the Scottish Government for use by new entrants.