Inshore fishing prohibitions in Scotland
The Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984 gives Scottish Ministers the power to prohibit sea fishing in a specified area within Scotland's inshore waters (from zero to six nautical miles). Ministers can prohibit the following:
- all fishing for sea fish
- fishing for a specified description of sea fish
- fishing by a specified method
- fishing from a specified description of fishing boat
- fishing from or by means of any vehicle or any vehicle of a specified description
- fishing by means of a specified description of equipment
Ministers can apply any combination of these prohibitions to an area, as well as specifying the period of time they apply for (up to all year round). They can also make exceptions if necessary, e.g. allowing fishing for a certain species in an area during a period when all other fishing is prohibited.
There are currently 39 of these closed areas in Scottish waters where mobile and/or static gear fishing has been prohibited on a seasonal or year-round basis. These have been designated for a number of reasons, including to protect fish stocks, preserve seabed habitats, and prevent gear conflict.
Prohibitions introduced under the 1984 Act have been subject to a regular review process that assessed whether existing measures needed to be amended or revoked, and whether it was necessary to introduce new measures.
Inshore fishing in the Outer Hebrides
There are currently seven closed areas in effect around the Outer Hebrides, the earliest of which came into force in 1985 and the most recent in 2003.
The local fishing industry has undergone a transformation since these prohibitions were first introduced. Changes in catching opportunities and a series of decommissioning schemes have led to a fleet formerly built around larger vessels targeting whitefish and pelagic species changing to one that now consists mostly of a smaller class of vessels that target shellfish. Shellfish now account for virtually all landings into the Outer Hebrides and are worth on average over £9 million each year to the local economy.
The Outer Hebrides IFG believes that, as a result of these changes, the closed areas are now in need of being updated and has developed management measures that propose amendments to a number of the existing prohibitions, as well as the introduction of a new prohibition. The IFG believes that by implementing these measures the management of the closed areas will be modernised and so better complement current fishing practices.
Outer Hebrides IFG
IFGs are non-statutory bodies that have been established around the Scottish coast with the purpose of helping improve the management of Scotland's inshore fisheries out to six nautical miles. Their aim is to put commercial fishermen, assisted by government agencies and others with an interest in the marine environment, at the heart of developing initiatives for sustainable and profitable fisheries.
The membership of the Outer Hebrides IFG includes:
- Clyde Fishermen's Association
- Mallaig & North West Fishermen's Association
- Orkney Fisheries Association
- Scallop Association
- Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association Ltd
- Scottish White Fish Producer's Association Ltd
- Western Isles Fishermen's Association
With advice from:
- Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
- Marine Scotland Compliance
- Marine Scotland Science
- Scottish Environment Protection Agency
- Scottish Environmental LINK
- Scottish Natural Heritage
After reaching consensus within its membership, the IFG has approached Marine Scotland to consult on the following proposals.
Proposed amendments to existing prohibitions
Bragar to Dell
A seasonal prohibition on static gear fishing has been in effect in this area since 1989, restricting it during the three months from 1 July to 30 September.
The IFG has proposed that the duration and timing of this prohibition should be changed to the five months from 1 November to 31 March, in order to coincide with the prohibition period on static gear fishing in the Northern Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and Harris closed area.
Q1. Do you support changing the prohibition period for static gear fishing in the Bragar to Dell area?
Sound of Harris
A prohibition on mobile gear fishing has been in effect in this area since 1985, restricting it during the seven months from 1 March to 30 September, with suction dredging further restricted all year round. Scallop dredging is excepted from this prohibition.
The IFG has proposed that this prohibition should be removed in its entirety due to scallop dredging, which is already permitted, being the only mobile gear fishing activity that takes place in the area.
Q2. Do you support removing the prohibition on mobile gear fishing in the Sound of Harris area?
Loch Maddy to Stuley Island
A seasonal prohibition on scallop dredging has been in effect in this area since 1985, restricting it during four non-consecutive months from 1 March to 30 April and 25 August to 31 October.
The IFG has proposed that this seasonal restriction be expanded to include all methods of fishing for scallops. The intention is to help conserve the local scallop stocks by ensuring that they are not exploited by other fishing methods (e.g. diving) whilst dredging is prohibited.
Q3. Do you support expanding the seasonal prohibition that restricts scallop dredging in the Loch Maddy to Stuley Island area to include all methods of fishing for scallops?
Northern Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and Harris
A seasonal prohibition on static gear fishing has been in effect in this area since 2003, restricting it during the five months from 1 November to 31 March.
The IFG has proposed that the sea area where the prohibition applies should be extended south to include the zone outlined in green on the map in Annex B. This is intended to protect this zone's shellfish stocks from overfishing, as they are targeted by vessels that also fish within the current closed area.
Q4. Do you support extending southwards the prohibition on static gear fishing in the Northern Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and Harris area?
Proposed introduction of new prohibition
The IFG has proposed that a new seasonal prohibition on static gear fishing for shellfish should be introduced in the inner east and west Loch Roag area during the three months from 1 May to 31 July.
The principal intention of the proposal is to protect the area's shellfish stocks throughout the summer months, when they are known to be moulting and soft-shelled. Soft-shelled shellfish have lower quality meat than when hard-shelled and achieve lower prices so are usually not landed. However, as they are more susceptible to damage at this stage, they are at an increased risk of mortality if caught and returned to the sea.
The proposal also complements the fishing activities of the local fishing fleet, which fish further offshore throughout the summer and do not return to the area until the autumn.
N.b. The wrasse fishery in the Loch Roag area, which also makes use of static gear, would not be affected by this prohibition.
Q5. Do you support introducing a seasonal prohibition on static gear fishing for shellfish in the Loch Roag area?
Maps of the five areas in question are contained in Annex B of this document.