Sandeel fishing - proposed closure: consultation analysis

Analysis report on the responses to the consultation on proposals to close fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters. The public consultation ran from 21 July 2023 to 13 October 2023.

Executive Summary


This report presents the independent analysis of responses to the consultation on proposals to close fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters. The public consultation ran from Friday 21st July 2023 to Friday 13th October 2023.

Aligned with Scotland's Fisheries Management Strategy, which does not endorse sandeel fishing within Scottish territorial waters, this initiative stems from a joint UK-Scottish Government call for evidence in 2021 to safeguard sandeel stocks and broader marine biodiversity. The proposal aims to enhance sandeel management for ecological benefits, beyond the existing closure in sandeel management area 4. It aligns with the Scottish Government’s international commitments in relation to protecting marine biodiversity and the terms of the UK/EU trade agreement. It prioritises sandeel protection, diverse ecosystem benefits, and complementing existing management measures in relation to sandeel.

The public consultation sought input on the proposals to close fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters, with the primary objectives of ensuring effective sandeel protection, fostering wider environmental and ecosystem benefits, and complementing existing management measures. It sought views and comments on five documents relating to proposals, including:

  • the consultation paper,
  • a Review of Scientific Evidence,
  • a Draft Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Report,
  • a Draft Partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment,
  • a Data Protection Impact Assessment.

The consultation featured six questions covering support for the closure, benefits of closing fishing for sandeel, impacts on island communities, costs and benefits, and assessment of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). Respondents were invited to provide further comments in an open-ended question. The analysis of responses in this report follows the structure of the consultation paper, considering each question individually.

The consultation received 494 responses via Citizen Space or by email to the Scottish Government, comprising of responses from 443 individuals and 51 organisations. Of the responses where the respondent identified as responding on behalf of an organisation (51), there were nineteen responses from organisations in the environmental/conservation sector, thirteen in the fishing sector, seven in the energy sector, five in the community sector, one in the recreation and six other organisations.[1]

In addition to this, 9,815 campaign emails which appear to be associated with the RSPB, where respondents add their name to text produced by a campaign organiser, were received. These responses are analysed and considered alongside the direct responses to the consultation questionnaire.

Support for closure of fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters - preferred option (Q1)

Overwhelming support was expressed in the consultation responses for the preferred option to close fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters. Of the closed responses, 97% indicated support, with only 3% in opposition. While organisational responses showed slightly lower support at 82%, individuals overwhelmingly favoured the proposal at 99%.

The consultation also received 9,815 campaign letters expressing support for the closure, indicating a widespread endorsement of the proposed measures among respondents. These letters were identical or similar in content, and appear to be from RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) supporters.

Many respondents expressing support for the preferred option emphasised the need to protect depleting fish stocks, particularly emphasising the crucial role of sandeel in marine ecosystems. Concerns were raised about the impact of commercial harvesting on threatened seabirds, including species like guillemot, razorbill, puffin, arctic tern, and kittiwake. Support was also tied to broader environmental goals, such as the Scottish Government's net-zero target by 2045 and the '30 by 30 target' to protect 30% of Scottish waters by 2030. Some respondents believed that achieving these targets necessitates limitations on unsustainable fishing practices, which they considered included sandeel fishing.

Those opposing the preferred option questioned the need for additional measures, expressing scepticism about what they viewed as the absence of direct scientific evidence justifying the proposal. Some argued that the closure could contradict other outcomes, such as the Marine Scotland Blue Economy Outcomes. A few respondents mentioned recommendations put forward by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), highlighting potential adverse economic consequences, particularly for European and Scottish salmon producers who rely on sandeel for fishmeal and fish oil. Some respondents believed the closure was unnecessary, asserting that the current sandeel fishery management is precautionary and aligned with ecosystem requirements. An international perspective was provided around concerns about the proposed measures' disproportionality and potential economic impact on the Danish fisheries sector, who have a major interest in the sandeel fishery.

Alternative or complementary measures that could be considered in the longer-term for the protection of sandeel in Scottish waters (Q2)

Many respondents supporting the proposal to close fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters did not offer views on alternative or complementary measures for the longer-term protection of sandeel, with some suggesting that any alternatives should be rejected as incompatible with the goal of increasing sandeel stock resilience.

Among those expressing opinions on alternatives, ideas focused on ecosystem-based fisheries management, emphasising the importance of a holistic approach involving the closure of UK waters to sandeel fishing to minimise displacement issues. Concerns were raised about the effectiveness of alternative technical measures, such as increased mesh sizes, and temporal closures that don't cover the full fishing season.

Some respondents considered the possibility of zero-Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for relevant sandeel stocks but noted political challenges, particularly regarding continued EU interest. Others emphasised the need for robust monitoring schemes for sandeel stocks and effective control and enforcement of the closure, while a few respondents remained sceptical about the effectiveness of the alternative measures outlined in the SEA Environmental Report.

Any further evidence that should be considered (Q3)

Respondents overwhelmingly supported the proposal to close sandeel fishing throughout all Scottish waters, emphasising the importance of increased sandeel populations for protecting seabirds, marine mammals, and other fish species. They highlighted benefits such as improved lifespans and breeding success for declining seabird populations, enhanced biodiversity, and positive impacts on river and sea-bed health, water quality, and carbon capture. The cessation of vessels targeting sandeel was seen as advantageous, with examples of increased white fish stocks in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Some respondents raised concerns about the allocation of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) to EU’s Scandinavian vessels, the potential impact of offshore wind developments on seabirds, and the need for coordination between English and Scottish legislation. A few suggested using the closure's benefits as compensation for offshore wind farm projects. However, a minority expressed scepticism about the scientific rationale behind the closure and called for further quantification of potential displacement.

Evidence relating to the impact on island communities (Q4)

The consultation sought opinions on the impact of closing fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters on island communities. Respondents varied in their views – a large number of respondents emphasised the positive impacts of increased sandeel populations on seabirds, wildlife, and the commercial fishing industry. Some supporters also cited the potential benefits for wind energy developments. However, a few concerns were raised about negative financial effects on island communities, with some arguing that existing management practices were sufficient. A few questioned the closure's impact, pointing to the limited evidence of improvement in biomass levels in previously closed areas. Many respondents, both supportive and concerned, emphasised the need for further work, including mitigation strategies and additional quotas for affected vessels.

Partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) (Q5)

The partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) highlights that sandeel quota has not been allocated to UK vessels since 2021. The main benefits of the proposed closure include positive impacts on sandeel populations, seabirds, whitefish species, marine mammals, MPAs, and progress towards achieving Good Environmental Status. The primary costs involve the impact on businesses, mainly non-UK vessels fishing for sandeel in Scottish waters.

In response to the consultation, many respondents supported the preferred option, emphasising the environmental benefits over potential costs. They argued that the financial aspects should be secondary to preventing an ‘environmental catastrophe’. Respondents believed that Scottish businesses, particularly the processing sector, would be minimally affected, while non-UK vessels, mainly Danish or EU, would bear the largest costs.

Some respondents noted concerns about the potential disruption to supply chains, regulatory impacts, and difficulties in negotiating with the EU. Some respondents highlighted the need to consider the indirect socio-economic benefits of offshore wind deployment resulting from sandeel closures. A few respondents suggested alternative assessment frameworks, and some expressed concerns about the long-term implications of depleted sandeel stocks.

Strategic Environmental Assessment Environmental Report (Q6)

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) evaluates the environmental impacts and alternative strategies associated with the proposals to close fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters. It considers alternatives in coming to the preferred response, asserting that complete closure is the most beneficial and risk-averse option.

Respondents in favour praised its evidence base, while critics expressed doubts about hypothetical impacts and called for a more thorough assessment. Concerns ranged from the report's language and immediate policy action to disputes over ICES advice and economic impacts on the sandeel industry. Overall, these responses highlighted the need for careful consideration of ecological and economic implications before implementing any proposed closure.



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