Fishing practices adapted in commercial fisheries: review

Comprehensive literature review on the specific interventions taken in Scotland, the UK and EU to reduce the climate related impacts of the marine wild capture fisheries sector complemented with a series of stakeholder interviews on direct experiences and challenges.


1.1 Background

1.1.1 The Climate Emergency

In 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report on the impact of a global warming at 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels. It sets out the likely consequences of the current levels of global warming as well as those of a 1.5-degree global warming (IPCC, 2018). Global warming was assessed as likely to be between 0.75 °C and 0.99 °C in the 2006-2015 decade compared to the 1850-1900 mean temperature, with a rise of about 0.2 °C per decade.

In 2020, the UK communicated its new Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The NDC commits the UK to reducing economy-wide GHG emissions by at least 68 % by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The Paris Agreement also commits signatories to achieving net zero by 2050.

1.1.2 The Climate Change Act

The Climate Change Act[1], as amended in 2019, commits the UK to net zero by 2050. The original act, passed in 2008, committed the UK to an 80 % reduction of GHG emissions by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. In 2019, the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 was passed which increased the UK's commitment to a 100 % reduction in emissions by 2050.

1.1.3 Scotland's Commitment

Additional to the UK target, the Scottish Government has set a more ambitious net zero target by 2045 with interim targets for reductions of 75 % by 2030 and 90 % by 2040. This is one of the most ambitious statutory targets of any country globally, going beyond what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said is required worldwide to limit warming to 1.5 °C .

To meet Scotland's targets, a rapid transformation across all sectors of our economy and society is targeted. Key actions to support this transition include:

  • A reduction in GHG emissions through a 'Just Transition' to a net zero economy and society, ensuring the journey is fair and creates a better future for everyone – regardless of location, status or nature of their work;
  • Supporting decarbonisation in the public sector;
  • Engaging with business and industry on decarbonisation;
  • Engaging the public and encouraging individuals to move towards low carbon living;
  • Supporting communities to tackle climate change; and
  • Delivering a Just Transition, by working with communities, business, industry and the people of Scotland to plan for our net zero future.

The UK Fisheries Act 2020 sets out a commitment for governments to develop policy to deliver the 'Climate Change' objective to mitigate and adapt to climate change. These commitments will mean that industries in UK (and peoples' daily behaviour) will have to undergo significant changes in order to meet these targets.

Scotland's Marine Assessment, published in 2020[2], summarises the latest evidence of the currently observed changes to the marine environment and how these may likely develop in the future.

1.1.4 Fishing practices in Scotland in the context of climate change

The fishing industry has an important part to play in reducing emissions and helping to create a low carbon economy with clean, green jobs. The transition to net zero will no doubt be challenging for the fishing sector, but also presents an opportunity to make a positive impact by adjusting practices, and growing Scottish businesses and supply chains in a sustainable way to create good, sustainable jobs.

In December 2020, the Scottish Government launched Scotland's Fisheries Management Strategy 2020-2030 (FFM Strategy)[3], which sets out a vision for Scotland to be a world class fishing nation, delivering responsible and sustainable fisheries management which provides access to a high protein, low carbon food. The Strategy is the first Scottish fisheries policy instrument to bring climate change into the fisheries management conversations and to give it the urgent tone that it requires. Specifically, the Strategy commits to taking action to understand and mitigate the impacts of climate change on our seas, supporting delivery of the Scottish Government's net zero targets, including by reducing vessel emissions and encouraging shorter supply chains. In addition, it will support and encourage sustainable waste management in Scottish fleets, growing the circular economy and reducing marine litter.

The FFM Strategy builds on a growing recognition that fisheries management must operate on an ecosystem scale, in order to find the balance between environment, economic and social outcomes. Considering ecosystem effects, fisheries have always been challenged by large background fluctuations in environmental conditions. In respect to such environmental impacts, the long-term perspective in the development of the FFM Strategy calls for more coherent environmental management that allow stocks to recover from abrupt or long-term environmental changes, while "tackling the global climate emergency and limiting temperate rise to 1.5°C".

The overarching aim of the FFM Strategy is to ensure that fishing is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. It explores how the delicate balance between environment, economic and social outcomes can be achieved. Ecosystem studies show that the main impacts from fishing are seabed abrasion and removal of species. However, there is also a need to balance mitigation measures against the socio-economic benefits that fishing brings. In response to the issues identified in the Strategy there is a clear need to secure a robust evidence base which will increase understanding of what actions and interventions are needed in order to mitigate the climate related impacts that result from fisheries and associated industries.

1.2 Aims and Objectives

This literature review aims to drive improvements in Scotland's fisheries sector, by providing the information necessary to facilitate successful and efficient reductions in GHG emissions and other climate change related sectoral impacts. Specifically, interventions taken in Scotland, the UK and EU (2010 – 2021) will be identified, in an effort to reduce the climate related impacts of the marine wild capture fisheries sector. At the same time, these interventions should aim to maintain or improve the sector's viability, sustainability and resilience.

The project aims to answer the following questions:

  • In the past five to 10 years, what actions have been taken in Scottish fisheries (include known trials where access to ongoing research can be obtained) to reduce GHG emissions from the sector and to mitigate other fisheries associated climate change impacts. What gaps can be identified, for example and are there other actions which could have been taken?
  • In the past five to 10 years, what actions to mitigate the contribution to climate change have been taken in the UK and internationally in relation to fisheries which may be relevant to Scotland (predominantly trawl and creel fisheries, focused on shellfish, whitefish and pelagic species).

The project will draw on a literature review of such interventions coupled with a series of stakeholders' interviews to collate information and opinions of direct experiences, any challenges (perceived or experienced) and opportunities with regards to reducing fisheries impacts on climate change.

The Scottish fishing fleet is made up of Scottish-based vessels registered to a port in Scotland and which are licensed and administered by a Scottish district. The number of active Scottish based vessels was 2,088 vessels in 2020. The Scottish fleet is dominated by vessels that are ten metres and under in length, accounting for 75 % of the Scottish fleet in 2020. The ten metre and under fleet mostly fish using creels (sometimes called pots). Creels catch some shellfish species such as crabs, lobsters and Nephrops, but other species like scallops are predominantly caught through dredging and Nephrops is also caught through trawling.

In the over ten metre vessels category, 71 % mainly targeted shellfish within 2020, with 21 % targeting demersal species (such as cod, haddock, whiting, monk fish). Only 22 vessels mainly targeted pelagic species (such as blue whiting, herring and mackerel) (Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics 2020 (

Taking account of the complexity of the Scottish fishing fleet[4], the findings will establish the suitability of interventions to reduce the effects of climate change in a Scottish context, including any information where available, on lessons learned from interventions that have been less effective. In addition, comparing interventions aimed at reducing the impact of fisheries on climate change in Scotland, with those from elsewhere, it will be possible to identify gaps in the approach taken in Scotland. These results will then be synthesised to provide recommendations for actions that could be most effective in Scotland at reducing the climate impacts associated with marine wild capture fisheries.

This will help to elucidate the policy options available to reduce these impacts while ensuring businesses continue to be viable, sustainable and resilient. Driving understanding of the way our fisheries sector impacts the climate will help deliver the best possible results for the Scottish marine environment, its fishing industry and fishing communities. Altogether, this represents the first step in producing an evidence-base in support of a 'climate-smart' fishing industry, understanding the avenues by which fisheries and fishers can prepare for a net zero target.



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