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.

Section E: Partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessments (BRIA) (Q5)


Sandeel quota has not been allocated to UK vessels since 2021, therefore only a partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) was produced. It summarised the expected impact on Scottish, UK and non-UK businesses of the proposals presented in this consultation[18].

The EU catching sector is expected to be most affected by any management measures introduced for all Scottish waters, with Scottish businesses anticipated to be impacted minimally. The BRIA also outlined the anticipated costs and benefits of the preferred option.

The anticipated benefits of the preferred option are as follows:

  • Sandeel: The extended closure would cover all of the sandeel fishing grounds in Scottish waters of sandeel area. Restricting sandeel fishing in Scottish waters therefore may benefit the health of the stock, which may lead to an increase in abundance.
  • Seabirds, whitefish species and marine mammals: Sandeel is a key prey species for some seabird species (e.g., kittiwakes, guillemots, puffins, and gannets), whitefish species (cod, whiting, haddock) and marine mammals (grey and harbour seals, harbour porpoises) which are present in the area that would be included in this closure. Restricting sandeel fishing will also reduce bycatches of whiting and mackerel, as these bycatches are currently taken in the sandeel fishery and counted against the sandeel quota.
  • Marine Protected Areas: The extension to all Scottish waters would mean that the closure would cover all MPAs in Scottish waters, including those in which seabirds and marine mammals are a protected feature. This also includes MPAs designated due to the importance of sandeel populations (e.g., Mousa to Boddam, North West Orkney and Turbot Bank).
  • Good Environmental Status: As of October 2019, the UK has not achieved Good Environmental Status (GES) for breeding seabirds and for harbour seals in the North Sea. Better management of sandeel fisheries in Scottish waters could contribute to achieving GES for these receptors.

The main costs associated with the preferred option are the costs to businesses (catching and processing) of a sandeel closure.

As quota is currently unallocated to Scottish vessels and this would be the expected status quo going forward, the cost to the Scottish sandeel catching sector for Option 1 (preferred option) is zero.

The second group that will be impacted by a complete sandeel fishery closure is made up of mainly non-UK vessels that fish for sandeel in Scottish waters and land in any port (UK or elsewhere). This group will face the largest cost as they are the main catchers of sandeel in Scottish waters. The vessels are primarily Danish, or simply EU vessels where the home country is not specified in the data.

The third group of businesses affected will be non-UK vessels which land their catch in Scotland. Whilst in 2021-22 there were no sandeel landings into Scottish ports, in the years before that all UK landings were into Scottish ports.

Other costs, which are detailed further in the BRIA report, include those to:

  • Scottish onshore processors
  • Compliance operations
  • Familiarisation costs to fishers and other stakeholders.

Response to the consultation

A total of 82 respondents gave a response to question 5. 50 of these responses were from individuals and 32 from organisations (see Table 7).

Table 7: Do you have any comments on the assumptions made in the partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessments (BRIA) concerning the costs and benefits of the option?

Respondent type








Organisation Type



Energy Sector




Fishing Sector








The benefits of the option outweigh the possible costs

Many respondents felt that the benefits of the preferred option outweigh the possible costs, with a general sentiment that financial considerations must be weighed against a ‘possible environmental catastrophe’ caused by not protecting sandeel and the wider marine ecosystem:

“We cannot continue to take without severe impacts. The views of the BRIA should be secondary to the evidence produced that show the ecological benefits of putting the ban in place” – [Individual].

Again, respondents observed that species such as kittiwakes, terns and puffins would benefit from the proposals presented in the consultation documents, as would those linked to commercial fisheries, like cod, whiting and haddock.

Several respondents agreed that any impacts of the preferred option on Scottish businesses would be minimal, and mainly related to the Scottish fish processing sector. Others felt there would be no direct impact on the Scottish fishing industry or local fishing communities as no Scottish (or UK) vessels currently fish for sandeel.

Indeed, many respondents saw the costs of the preferred option as more impactful on businesses outwith Scotland and the UK. They noted that most of the sandeel fishing effort is by vessels from outside the UK (e.g. Denmark), where sandeel are often processed and used as animal feed. For many, this aspect led to heightened agreement with the full closure of sandeel fishing to all EU and Non-EU vessels:

“Given that the UK has a 2.97% share and the EU a 97.03% share of the parties’ combined sandeel quota, and the UK doesn’t issue their quota to vessels to catch, then there is no benefit to Scotland or the UK to the fishery remaining open” – [Organisation].

Impact on offshore wind

Some organisational respondents pointed out that the BRIA did not consider the indirect socio-economic benefits of offshore wind deployment that could be facilitated by the allocation of sandeel closures as a compensation measure. Such benefits were seen as contributing to key Scottish Government objectives, like those linked to a Just Transition, and the wider Scottish economy.

Potential disruption and difficulties

As above, many respondents said they supported the preferred option on the basis that the impact on Scottish businesses would be minimal. However, some were concerned that the BRIA does not consider the long-term implications of depleted sandeel stocks, which could have prolonged negative impacts on Scottish businesses, disrupt supply chains and cause regulatory impacts.

Others felt that opportunities for UK vessels hoping to increase their share of the TAC (Total Allowable Catch) during upcoming negotiations – where the UK/EU agreement is said to allow fishing for EU vessels in Scottish waters until 2025– would be lost by the proposals to close fishing for sandeel in Scottish waters. There were also worries that the preferred option would result in backlash from the EU, possibly causing difficulties in negotiating with countries such as Denmark and burdening white fish fleets.

Other Commentary

One respondent suggested that it might be better to apply a ‘capital’ assessment framework to inform decision-making when considering an ecosystem management measure like the closure of fishing for sandeel in Scottish waters, rather than simply a monetary assessment. A few respondents said they had not read the BRIA and so did not wish to comment.



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