Scottish seas support diverse and abundant marine habitats and species. Sandeel form a particularly important component of the North Sea ecosystem and foodweb, as a key link between plankton and top predators such as commercial fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. As an island nation, Scotland’s seas have an important role to play in underpinning our economic prosperity and supporting our wellbeing.
The Scottish Government has national and international commitments to protect marine biodiversity, and marine ecosystems. The Scottish Government is also committed to the sustainable management of fisheries, which includes protecting biodiversity and healthy functioning ecosystems. Managing fishing for sandeel in Scottish waters, with the aim of benefiting both sandeel stocks and the wider ecosystem, is an integral part of ensuring sustainable fisheries.
Sandeel play an important role in the marine ecosystem in aiding the long-term sustainability and resilience of the marine environment. Given this role, it remains an over-arching and long-held Scottish Government position not to support fishing for sandeel in Scottish waters. This is reflected in Scotland’s Future Fisheries Management Strategy. For this reason, the UK, supported by the Scottish Government, has not allocated sandeel quota to UK vessels since 2021.
On 21 July 2023 the Scottish Government issued a public consultation seeking views on proposals to close fishing to sandeel in all Scottish waters, with the purpose of bringing about wider environmental and ecosystem benefits, including potential benefits to sandeel, seabirds, marine mammals, and other fish species. The consultation had six questions covering support for the preferred option to close fishing for sandeel in all Scottish waters, alternative or complementary measures that could be considered, the scientific evidence underpinning the proposals, and questions relating to the statutory impact assessments (for example, Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment, Strategic Environmental Assessment and Island Communities Impact Assessment).
Following the conclusion of the consultation on 13 October 2023, an external consultancy firm, Diffley Partnership, was appointed by the Scottish Government to undertake a detailed analysis of the consultation responses.
A total of 494 written representations were received from individuals and organisations including the fishing sector, renewable energy developers and recreational interests, as well as 9,815 campaign submissions. The responses covered a range of issues, including questions on the scientific evidence base on the potential effects of sandeel fisheries management on the marine environment and the applicability of alternative measures. Recurring issues or themes raised in the comments also included issues relating to the UK-EU trade and cooperation agreement, benefits for biodiversity, wellbeing and wildlife.
One topic, which did not form part of the consultation, but which some respondents provided comment on, was the relationship with offshore wind development.
A report has been published detailing the analysis of the consultation responses.
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